The pandemic may prompt American medicine to become less expensive, more efficient and more effective at protecting people’s health.
If there is a silver lining to the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, it likely lies in the glaring inadequacies and inefficiencies it exposed that are inherent in traditional American medicine. At the same time, it suggests ways to improve medical practice that can ultimately give us more bang for our health care buck.
The Biden administration currently faces overwhelming challenges to stifle Covid-related disease and deaths, responsibly regrow the economy and curb the environmental and dollar costs of climate change. But as the new president and his team strive to get a handle on these critical issues, they might also confront the myriad failings and needed improvements to health care exposed by the pandemic. We’ve paid too high a price for wasteful procedures and inconsistent medical care delivery in this country. And too many people paid with their lives as a result.
Dr. Robert Steinbrook, an editor at JAMA Internal Medicine, said in an interview, “The pandemic exposed serious vulnerabilities in our health care and created opportunities to solve problems for the long term.”
Although the pandemic prompted many people to miss or delay medical care that sometimes resulted in more serious disease and more costly treatment, it also suggested steps American medicine can take to become less expensive, more efficient and more effective at protecting people’s health.
Exhibit No. 1: Half a century of evidence has documented the health-saving, lifesaving and cost-saving benefits of preventive medicine, yet this country has retained a chaotic, penny-wise-and-pound-foolish medical system that too often puts the treatment cart before the health-promoting horse.
As many experts have told me during decades of medical reporting, we really don’t have health care in this country; we have sickness care. We’re not getting more, we’re simply paying more. The United States spends 25 percent more per person on medical care than any other highly developed country and gets less benefit from it. And the care we get leaves us shamefully behind other developed countries in important health metrics, like maternal and infant mortality and healthy longevity.