The U.S. Healthcare System Compared to Other Countries

As a future hospital administrator reading this blog, you may be focused on navigating the American healthcare system. The U.S. might be your main site for work in the future, and, as such, you want to make sure you understand how its healthcare system functions. Sometimes, however, one has to take a step back in order to be able to really examine a system, and healthcare is no different. Here are a couple of of things you might be surprised to learn about the American healthcare system in comparison to the systems of other countries.

screen-chartMore money, more problems

As of 2015, the U.S. actually spent more per capita dollars on healthcare than 12 other high-income countries it was measured against. According to the study, the U.S. spent over $9,000 per person annually on healthcare, when compared to the second-highest spending country, Switzerland at a little over $6,000 per capita. In the U.K., health care spending per capita was only at $2,802 per year.

So, given the discrepancy in spending, does that mean everyone in the U.S. is 50% healthier than people in Switzerland? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In reality, there are several health outcome measurements that the U.S. performs quite poorly on compared to other high-income countries. Some examples include overall life expectancy, rates of chronic diseases, obesity, and infant mortality.

Why is there such a difference?

All in all, the research seems to show that the total amount of money spent on a healthcare system isn’t the best way to determine its success at treating patients or maintaining a healthy population. There are clearly other factors in play.

Economist David Cutler believes that healthcare administration may be at least  piece of the reason for the disparity. According to Cutler, the U.S. spends a full quarter of its healthcare dollars on administration, which is a higher percentage than any other country. Administrative overhead is much lower in single-payer healthcare systems, as are found in several other countries the U.S. gets compared to on this topic.

This is not to blame all of America’s healthcare woes on administration, however! Another big factor in high healthcare costs is that the U.S. pays more for the same services and technology as other countries. Branded drug costs are higher, medical equipment is more expensive, and doctors make more money compared to other countries.

A final factor, according to Cutler is that when Americans are sick they receive more dollars worth of medical care than those in other countries (though not a higher number of physician visits). And at least some of the time it’s not clear that spending money on more expensive procedures changes health outcomes.

Is the news all bad?

The U.S. does perform better than other countries on some health metrics. In fact, it has one of the lowest mortality rates for cancer, and Americans are generally less likely to smoke, consume large amounts of alcohol, and have high blood pressure when compared to residents of other countries.

In sum, the U.S. clearly has some big questions to solve when it comes to improving outcomes in the healthcare system. However, as with anything, there are several viewpoints from which to understand the story.