By Kelly Phillips, staff writer
While officials often tout the United States as having the
best health care in the world, it came out roughly in the middle of the pack on
many indicators in a recent comparison with four other English-speaking
“The extra money Americans are spending on health care
doesn’t necessarily buy them better quality care,” said Peter Hussey, lead
author of the study and a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
The United States fared better than the other four
countries—Australia, Canada, New Zealand and England—on only a few indicators
and worse on others.
Most indicators placed the United States roughly in the
The study “How Does the Quality of Care Compare in Five
Countries?” is the first to look at quality indicators that reflect actual
medical treatment between countries, Hussey said. The Commonwealth Fund
International Working Group on Quality Indicators published its study in the May
4 issue of Health Affairs.
“There is no one country to go to for the best medical
care,” Hussey said. “What we did find was that each of the five countries has at
least one area where they are the best and at least one area where they’re the
worst. So it’s really uneven.”
The study was sparked “because we’ve known for a long time
that the U.S. spends a lot more on health care than other countries, and we
don’t do as well as some other countries on things like life expectancy or
infant mortality,” Hussey said.
The results may surprise some, but confirm the suspicions
of others, the author said.
“For me personally, it was a surprise,” Hussey said. “I
would think the U.S. would have the best health care system.”
The authors found a few areas of particular surprise at the
United States’ poor showing, including some of the cancer survival rates, Hussey
While breast cancer survival rates placed the United States
on top for that measure, the country was in the middle for survival rates for
Hussey also would have expected the United States to top
other countries on survival after kidney and liver transplants.
“These are the kind of high-tech surgeries in which we
expect the U.S. would do better,” Hussey said. “Actually, the U.S., did worse
than most of the other countries.”
The five countries used in the comparison were chosen
because they are English-speaking and their health ministers participate in an
annual meeting. Researchers wanted to make sure the indicators were closely
related to medical care interventions and that data for the indicators were
Hussey said the indicators may not be “the definitive set”
for quality, but said it was the best they could do with available quality data.
The United States scored well on these indicators: survival
after a breast cancer diagnosis, screening for cervical cancer and flu
vaccinations among the elderly.
Among the lowlights for the United States: survival after a
transplant and mortality due to asthma among those aged 5 to 39.
As for the latter, “You would hope this is something that
would never happen,” Hussey said.
Instead, the mortality rate is higher now than it was 10
years ago, he said, while it has been decreasing in the other countries.
Among other highlights of the report, according to Hussey:
consistently performed poorly on survival rates for most of the cancer
indicators. “But they did well on most indicators of avoidable events—asthma
mortality, suicide rates and diseases like hepatitis B,” Hussey said.
· Canada logged
the highest case fatality rate after heart attack among the countries studied.
To read the entire study, click here.
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