Friday, January 25, 2008

Health Care and Perception

Getting the most out of life is what Americans do best. We find ourselves doing more, going more places, and living longer than our parents and grandparents did "back in the day." That's not to say that we are better people now than those who gave us life, or that Americans have a patent on living. But we tend to think of ourselves as stronger, faster, smarter, wealthier, and better looking than the rest of the world. After all, why does everyone want to come to the U.S. for their share of the "American dream?"

Yes, Americans perceive themselves as healthy, wealthy, and wise! How Americans see themselves in large part determines how they live. We become the result of our collective experiences. So when we make wise decisions in our health care, we can be more comfortable in the fact that over time the likelihood of experiencing a chronic disease and the process of aging will be softened by doing the right things in our lifestyle choices. And the alternative is obvious--poor health decisions result in poor health.
Additionally, perceptions vary among the public and the medical community about the lack of fairness in treatment based upon ethnicity, insured status, money, and other social and cultural factors. Studies have found that perception of fairness varied also on patients' ability to speak English. Inequities in the U.S. healthcare system happen, unfortunately, due to these reasons and more. One of the surveys released about this subject was done by the Kaiser Foundationin June, 2007. Comparison documentation from a variety of testing results confirmed the ways that Americans have perceived inequality in health care. Our best efforts at times are not enough to allow an equitable treatment of patients regardless of need or ability. However, Americans know that we have a better status of patient advocacy in the U.S. than in most of the countries in the world. That's one reason why God allowed lawyers to be created.
It is important the way that people perceive health care. Patients wish to know the status of their treatment and prognosis, and they expect to be treated in a professional manner by health care providers. When problems arise, as they often will--due to incompetance by the medical practitioner or lack of patient information when requested--people want to know when and how the issue will be resolved and by whom. Not everyone who works in health care knows the answers to some problems, and not everyone in the medical field knows the costs involved for certain health care concerns. However, with the current technological advances in price transparency and abilities available to extrapolate data, we can advance the way patients can receive feedback.
Additionally, the way we perceive how the medical community treats those without insurance or Americans who are not the stereotypical model can provide valuable lessons for the future of U.S. health care. The quality of care we expect should be the same for everyone regardless of their status in life. People deserve great health care and equitable treatment from any medical provider. If the overall patient experience is good, then minor inconveniences like behavior, cleanliness, and other incidental issues will be less likely to factor into complaints that may lead to malpractice suits, heavy handed government oversight, or a host of other very unpleasant outcomes. Controlling costs and improving effectiveness should also be a concern for both patients and practitioners. If our perception of the treatment experience is poor, we will undoubtedly perceive that the entire health care system is poor and inequitable no matter what the facts support.
The bottom line is that we should and can do better with the way people in the U.S. perceive health care. Cost containment, key performance indicators, risk management, quality of care, and patient advocacy should be constantly monitored and improved in order to provide the best health care in the world. The medical community needs to take note of when they fail and how to learn from those lessons to not repeat the same mistakes. The insurance community needs to recognize how to fix problems in the market place and with consumers and their customers. And the general public needs to wake up and understand that health care is not to be taken for granted. Health insurance is a privilege, not a right--so don't abuse it! We all play a part in making the U.S. a healthier place to live.
Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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