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Health care’s  dire dysfunction

To the editor:

The rising number of people without access to affordable healthcare is a symptom of a larger crisis. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently reported that 17.9 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product is spent on healthcare; the world’s highest.

Yet, of 17 nations having comparable wealth, we are dead last in healthcare quality. Americans are dying younger, from a wide array of preventable diseases. Other research reports state that 25 percent of hospitalized patients are accidentally harmed when receiving care, and 180,000 hospitalized Medicare patients die annually from ‘hospital-acquired’ injury and illness. A recent American International Group (AIG) survey found that nearly half of every dollar spent on healthcare costs is related to accidental patient injury or death, and that improvements in patient safety will provide ‘quick return on investment.’

Yet, despite these horrifying statistics, there remains an inexplicable apathy toward improving quality and patient safety not only among politicians, but our healthcare leaders. The AIG also found that 25 percent of hospital executives say they are more focused on buoying publicly reported metrics than impacting patient safety. And, rather than tackle the roots of healthcare inefficiency and harm, many politicians would attempt to reduce healthcare costs by restricting access to the Medicaid safety net.

This will not prevent people from becoming ill and requiring healthcare. It is cost shifting at its most inept.

The public policy discussion should be on truly reforming our healthcare system, while ensuring access to affordable, safer systems of care. Care providers and patients need high-functioning hospital organization and leadership. Until national attention is focused on meaningful reform of payment systems, hospital organization, and preventative care, we will continue to throw increasingly scarce resources at a broken system with deadly consequences. The human and financial toll is untenable.

Jeff Brown


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