T.R. Reid’s August 23rd op-ed piece in the Washington Post, “5 Myths About Health Care Around the World” explores many of the common myths Americans believe about health and healthcare systems in other countries. Opponents of health reform in America often point to these myths as concrete reasons why we shouldn’t model changes to the American system after health systems elsewhere. The myths are:
- It’s all socialized medicine out there.
- Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.
- Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.
- Cost controls stifle innovation.
- Health insurance has to be cruel.
You can find out why these common myths don’t hold water by reading Mr. Reid’s article. But if I may, I’d like to add one other myth to the list:
6. America leads the world in the use of ICT in health.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has traveled extensively or spent any amount of time living abroad already knows that America has fallen behind many other countries in Europe, parts of Asia and elsewhere in public transportation, cellular technology, utilities infrastructure, and in many cases standards of living; although that last one is debatable depending on what kind of standards you have come to expect. And while America does offer highly advanced medical diagnostics and therapeutics (if you can access them), we lag well behind many other countries in our use of information and communications technology (ICT) in health.
Throughout much of Europe, nearly all clinicians use electronic health records. Compare that with less than 25 percent of clinicians here. Because payment systems in other countries incentivize more efficient ways to deliver health services, you will tend to see more widespread use of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring solutions than you typically will find in America. There is also more widespread use of hospital information systems that use highly flexible, less expensive commodity software components and web services architecture instead of highly proprietary, legacy technologies that are remnants of a bygone era in computing. Clinicians love these newer systems because they are easier to learn and use. Administrators love them because they are less costly to acquire and maintain.
We still have an opportunity to regain America’s lead. Let’s hope we make some good decisions in the months and years ahead. I’ve had an opportunity to meet with many innovative companies and individuals who are working very hard to move America in the right direction. I think we’ll all get there a little faster if people can just let go of some of the myths that are holding us back.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft