Healthcare in America-Part II

David Kelly, 2012-2013 President, HOSA-Future Health Professionals

Medical Student, College of Medicine, The University of Oklahoma

In my last article, I talked about what I consider to be the two most significant reasons why healthcare costs are continually increasing in the United States. In the end, I narrowed the discussion down to two phenomena – the increased use of the healthcare system as Americans become on average older and less healthy and the continual development of treatments that grow more expensive as they become more advanced and personalized. Now I’d like to put a more positive spin on things and discuss how we might correct some aspects of these troubling trends. I also want to consider where we may actually be heading. Let’s dive in!

Partially correcting increased care use is simple – people must make healthier lifestyle choices if we are going to decrease the rate at which costs grow. That’s easier said than done, however. The single greatest thing that we as Future Health Professionals can do to this end is educate our patients about their own health. Americans’ diet and exercise habits are by and large grossly unhealthy, but knowledge is power. Let’s consider a single example: soft drinks. Many Americans drink a soda with almost every meal, and some drink many more than that. But consider that a single can of soda has, on average, 39 grams of sugar. That’s 10 sugar cubes or the same amount of sugar in two slices of apple pie. Thus if you drink six cans of soda per day, that’s equivalent to the sugar in two whole apple pies. If we can empower people through education to make healthy decisions, then over time our society will spend less on treating the chronic comorbidities that come with conditions like obesity.

Controlling the cost of advanced healthcare innovation is a far more delicate task. How do we encourage innovation while also protecting consumers from overpaying for advanced treatments? I think any approach here has to be multifaceted, but I also think that the burden here rests largely on the government. This is why facilities such as the NIH are important and why the government gives vast grants to research universities and labs around the country. These researchers are working on medical breakthroughs without expecting a huge payday when a treatment goes to market. Not that private companies can’t be a part of this too – controlling the prices that treatments are sold at not through regulation but through the payment of subsidies may be a balanced option. I don’t purport to know enough about the pharmaceutical or medical technology industries to propose a more concrete solution, but I do know that the money that we spend on public research is money well spent.

Enough about what I think needs to be done – what will really happen? Healthcare is a volatile topic these days, and while everything may seem hopelessly complex, I do think we’ll find a way out. It’s important to understand that things will get worse before they get better. Increased health care utilization by the generation known as “baby boomers” will push health care costs higher over the next decade, and we’ll continue to see the effects of diets high in processed foods and high smoking rates for years to come. The biggest positive shift that I’m beginning to see is one that I called out in my last article – the transition from a conversation about healthcare to a conversation about health. We have vast stores of knowledge on the internet, and so people are empowered as never before to learn about their health and the factors affecting it. I think that we will begin to see a more robust push against processed foods coming from our government and healthcare providers. I also think that people will begin to demand healthier options in what they eat – even if it’s fast food. We are already seeing that shift begin to take shape. Improvements in diet and exercise can and will decrease healthcare costs across the board. I also think that ultimately, the government will get more involved in regulation of pharmaceutical, medical technology, and insurance companies; this isn’t based on any political idea, but simply on the fact that we are one of the few industrialized countries that has not yet made that transition. Healthcare will always be hard – particularly, it will always be hard to pay for. But working together with other players within the system will undoubtedly lead to better outcomes for our wallets - and for our health.

Disagree with any of my thoughts? Think that there’s a larger problem that I’m not seeing? Email me at dkellyhosa@gmail.com and tell me about it!

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