In other words, exactly what do we mean when we refer to the US Healthcare system?
Perhaps it should be called a "sickcare system". After all it rarely intervenes with anyone until they become sick.
"Prevention" in the medical community mostly refers to early detection of disease, not taking measures to keep us from getting sick in the first place.
There is hope. More and more caregivers are starting to take note of and promote things like nutrition, exercise, stress
management and other lifestyle factors that could prevent disease and bestow a greater quality of life.
Back to the original question, the US healthcare system is anything and everything involved in restoring members of the population to health and keeping them healthy. This includes the provision of research, treatment, disease prevention, financing and the insuring of healthcare.
Whatever is said about the existing healthcare system is changing and will change significantly over the next few years. There is a new sheriff in town named Obamacare and he is turning healthcare on its head.
The Google Search Box below is provided as an aid to finding specific items of interest. Just type what you are looking for in the box, hit "Search", and a new window will open with a list of pertinent page URLs. Click on the appropriate sounding URL and it will take you there.
The book shown below, "Essentials of the U.S. Health Care System" is a good reference work that clarifies the complexities of health care organization and finance and presents a solid overview of how the various components fit together.
It covers basic structures and operations of the U.S.health system -- from its historical origins and resources, to its individual services, cost, and quality.
This is a condensed and simplified version and is perfect for those who need to supplement materials in another course, such as health policy, or courses taught in allied health settings. Click on the link to Amazon.com for more information or to order.
The US healthcare system starts with the people; all the different types of caregivers throughout the system. Medical doctors of all stripes, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, hospital administrators and many, many others.
Click here on Doctors and Nurses to see what it takes to become a care giver in the US and work in the system.
The US healthcare system is also a huge collection of facilities; the hospitals, outpatient surgical centers, doctors’ offices, clinics, assisted living facilities and anywhere else that people go to receive care and
Photo: Lynchburg General, Lynchburg, VA
Hospital organization, staffing and administration is extremely complex. The main thing to remember is that the patient is not the customer; as far as hospitals are concerned, the doctors are the customers. Even more important is that the deep pockets and bill payers are the driving force...the insurance companies, drug companies and government.
Next are the payer groups, the money machines behind the system. Mostly these are the insurers and the networks they employ.
PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) and HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) are a key part of many insurance plans.
In addition there are indemnity insurance plans, private insurers, and the government medicare and Medicaid insurance programs.
This is exactly the issue now driving health care reform in the current U.S. administration. The cost of health care has precluded too many people from buying health insurance and now forcing some to make choices between buying food or paying for their prescriptions.
The issue has split Congress, the citizenry, put doctors and insurers alike on notice that their lives are about to change. It won't be long now before we all see how it plays out and whether or not we will be faced with cheap but rationed healthcare.
Doesn't it make more sense just to stay Healthy by Nature and not need the health care system? Stay tuned.
PPOs and HMOs are managed care groups of doctors, hospitals and ancillary health providers (dentists, chiropractors, vision, etc.) that have contracted with the insurer to provide health care at reduced rates to the insurers clients.
They do this in return for a larger and steadier stream of patients.
Managed care is almost an oxymoron. It should be called "managed cost" instead of "managed care" since the administrators of these organizations do a great job of getting between doctor and patient...they make super back seat drivers.
Nor can we overlook the great and small pharmaceutical companies that provide a steady flow pills to treat our symptoms and more pills to treat the side effects from the first pills.
Occasionally prescription drugs may actually cure something but that is the exception. After all, if a pill cured someone, they wouldn't need to take that pill anymore, would they?
In addition to pills, the pharmaceutical industry is a tremendous source of funding for medical schools, research, doctors continuing medical education, doctors speaking engagements, jobs for retiring FDA employees.
It is also an unending flow of free samples, pens, coffee cups, wall magnets, wall posters and other valuable tools for the medical practitioner's office. And let's not forget to mention the millions of dollars flowing to network TV for all those "Ask Your Doctor" commercials.
Finally there are the government agencies that attempt to regulate the US Healthcare industry. The FDA, USDA and FTC would certainly fall into this category.
The FDA is by far the largest and most powerful entity of the government administrations and agencies involved in the US Healthcare industry. They protect us but I'm not sure from what.
Their performance in stopping bad drugs from China and India has fallen a bit short. The recent episode of E-coli laden peppers from Mexico wasn't exactly sterling either, especially since the U.S. tomato growers took the fall.
They don't seem to be very effective in protecting us from pharmaceutical companies, judging from how many people die each
year from properly prescribed drugs. Nevertheless, I'm sure the numbers would be exponentially larger if the FDA weren't on the job.
They do seem to do a great job of protecting us from those evil dietary supplement manufacturers. God forbid that we should ingest a vitamin or mineral supplement, an antioxidant, a phytosterol or any other natural plant product that may actually do something good for us.
We won't cover supplements in the US healthcare section since supplements don't cure, mitigate, heal or help any health issue; at least according to the FDA.
If someone's health condition does improve after taking supplements, they sure better not tell anyone about it; at least not in the form of a testimony.
Photo: Dietary Supplement shelves at Wal-Mart
Then we have organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research.
Photo: NIH Lister Hill, Bethesda, MD.
The CDC is another one of the major operating components of the DHHS, collaborating to create the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health.
They meet these goals through health promotion, prevention of disease, injury and disability, and preparedness for new health threats.
These two organizations are a couple of the really good guys in the US Healthcare system and both will be discussed in the context of Epidemiology; click here to go there.
The US healthcare's medical community has my utmost respect and admiration. They are, for the most part, a group of professionals who care greatly about helping people by providing cure and comfort.
Perhaps in another world, a long time ago, people became doctors because it was a path to riches.
At least in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, those days are long gone, thanks mostly to government regulation, reporting requirements, price controlled Medicare and Medicaid programs and the rise of managed care organizations.
Lawsuits and litigation, malpractice insurance, and numerous other constraints on wealth accumulation by US healthcare providers are doing their part to drive doctors out of business.
In spite of my strong adherence to natural medicine and the power of supplements, I have a doctor and I even see him occasionally.
Want to know why? I'll tell you anyway. It's because he LISTENS, and spends TIME with me, and DOESN'T wear his prescription pad in a quick-draw holster on his hip. He makes me feel like he cares and I think he does.
Everyone should have a personal physician. Accidents happen! No matter how well we protect ourselves, eat right, and make all the right lifestyle decisions, <em>stuff</em> happens.
It's a jungle out there and the bugs are working out, they're getting stronger. Also, sooner or later, we all are going to get OLD, whatever that means, and we will need the care of a good doctor.
Besides, I like to know my numbers and my doctor is the best one to check them. Although, I don't put much stock in PSA (prostate specific antigen) numbers, I still like to know what it's doing. Every couple of years, I like to know what my blood chemistry is doing.
I take a lot of natural supplements to keep my LDL and HDL cholesterol in line but I still like to have blood drawn occasionally to actually see the numbers.
I also take certain supplements to keep my GI system healthy, especially my colon, but every few years I still want a gastroenterologist to take a look and see how well my efforts are working. You get the picture.
If you don't have a doctor, get one; afterall, they are the backbone of the US healthcare system. They just need to break free of the prescription drug mentality.
There's more reasons to have a personal physician than not.
There is no shortage of problems in the US Healthcare system but there's an elephant in the room that no one seems to notice. The "elephant" is the number of people the system kills every year.
Ever hear the words "nosocomial" or "iatrogenic"? If not, it would probably be in your best interest to get familiar with them.
"Nosocomial" refers to any disease contracted by a patient while under medical care. However common usage of the word now refers to hospitals and specifically hospital acquired infection.
I know you have heard of the superbug MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus).
Photo: MRSA virus escaping destruction by white blood cells; NIH.
"Iatrogenic" refers to deaths inadvertently caused by a doctor, surgeon or by medical intervention or diagnostic procedures.
Reportedly, over 700,000 people are killed in the U.S. every year at the hands of the people and systems that are supposed to heal them. In comparison, official estimates of total deaths from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki a-bombs combined is about 250,000 people.
If you keep up with the ongoing debates on US healthcare reform and the where the US healthcare system is headed, you know it is still a work in process.
The system will always be in a state of flux as new epidemics are manufactured and the balance of power shifts between insurance companies, drug producers, the FDA and Congress. It seems the only ones without any power are the patients (that would be us) but we do have the vote.
It is our responsibility to stay educated on current issues facing the US healthcare system and vote accordingly.
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