Is it Fair to Compare Health Systems Abroad to Those in the United States?


International Healthcare

When people start debating the relative merits of healthcare in different countries, the discussion almost always defaults to cost versus benefit received. And because the bottom line is so important, other critical issues are often overlooked.

Are there core systemic differences between the healthcare system in the United States and those found in Canada, Sweden, and other countries? Of course there are, but the difference isn’t just a political or philosophical one. Is it possible those systems aren’t built to scale and meet the needs of the 330-plus million humans requiring care in the U.S.? This is where an approach that leverages technology might yield some valuable improvements.

The state of healthcare in the United States                                                                                                                                                    

Let’s start with the basics. For all the benefits that Americans see in our daily lives and for all our liberties, our healthcare outcomes do not map well to our healthcare system costs. According to recent studies, bureaucratic complexities, administrative overhead, and higher drug prices mean that almost all healthcare-related costs are higher in the United States than elsewhere—with universally worse results. Overall, the United States spends just over 17% of GDP on healthcare, whereas international averages range from around 10% – 12%. And still, we have a life expectancy that is measurably lower than many other countries at 78.8 years. Similar results can be found with our infant mortality, which is at 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live infant births.

Related: Fewer Americans See Healthcare in Crisis Mode

This framework is relevant in helping us answer the question, “Can technology help solve these systemic challenges?”

There is an old saying in technology departments that “a tool is just a tool and cannot fix a broken system or process.” Technology is simply a tool to help make functioning systems simpler or more cost effective. The question we should therefore be asking is this: What technology can be implemented to solve these challenges and drive down costs, while improving outcomes?

The technology challenges

The advent of urgent care centers in recent years has perhaps done more to drive down costs than any number of technology solutions combined, but that doesn’t mean that technology service providers should stop looking for new solutions that help reform the U.S. healthcare system as a whole.

Organizational change is well understood to comprise three pillars: people, process, and technology. By focusing exclusively on one pillar––technology––we can’t fully address what would be needed to change the system. Along with technology, the healthcare industry would need to update processes and train people to support this new, overhauled system, whatever form it might take. Without it, a new solution would fail regardless of how well suited it is or who supported the change.


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