WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reforming the tottering U.S. health care system should start at the very beginning of the process — in medical school, the top public health official said on Saturday.
Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stepped into the debate over health care reform with a call for changing the way doctors, nurses, veterinarians, pharmacists and dentists are educated.
Not only are more schools needed, Gerberding said, but these professionals need to start their education all together, to foster cooperation and a sense of common mission.
“I believe that what we really need in this country are schools of health,” Gerberding told reporters at the annual meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“If we are seriously thinking about building a health system, then we need to be training professionals in a collegial and collaborative manner.”
Earlier in the week, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute reported that the United States will be short 1 million nurses and 24,000 doctors by 2020. It said that while applications to nursing program had risen, the number of students denied admission had grown six fold since 2002, mostly because of a shortage of instructors.
The veterinary association has forecast a shortfall of food supply veterinarians of 4 percent to 5 percent a year. Gerberding said vets are key to tracking outbreaks of avian influenza and noted that a veterinarian first figured out that West Nile virus was killing birds — and people — when it entered the United States in 1999.
The issue of health care reform is at the fore of the 2008 presidential campaign. Congress, President George W. Bush, and coalitions of businesses and labor unions have all made proposals for change, although none are detailed.
The system is a conglomeration of public and private insurance, with the education of medical professionals left to state universities and private academic centers.
An estimated 43 million Americans lack any health care insurance at all, and the United States is the only industrialized nation without an organized national health care system.
“We are at a tipping point with our health care delivery system,” Gerberding said. “We cannot afford to continue going in the direction that our system is going. We have to assure that all people have access.
“People in the United States spend $532 billion (a year) on health. That $532 billion is not spent very wisely.”
Gerberding said the system is focused on treating disease and on end-of-life care, with little attention paid to preventing disease and helping people lead healthier lives.
Americans also have trouble getting good information about health, with the Internet and cable television being conduits for an increasing onslaught of misinformation, she said.
“We have to get our voice heard above the cacophony of the junk science that is being heard.”