NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Provide Appropriate Health Care About Half the Time

June 26, 2003

On average, doctors provide appropriate health care only about half the time, a landmark study of adults in 12 U.S. metropolitan areas suggests.

Such deficiencies "pose serious threats to the health of the American public" that lead to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Other key findings:

  • Patients with high blood pressure received 65 percent of recommended care; poor blood pressure control contributes to more than 68,000 preventable deaths annually, researchers say.
  • Only 45 percent of heart attack patients received beta-blockers, which have been proven to reduce the risk of dying by 23 percent.
  • A third of patients had been screened for colorectal cancer; routine screening and follow-up care could prevent about 9,600 deaths a year.

The authors say their work is the largest and most comprehensive examination of the quality of health care in the United States. Though the study stopped short of linking inappropriate care to the poor health or death of individual patients, it shows that Americans cannot take for granted that they're getting good care, says lead author Elizabeth McGlynn, associate director of RAND Health.

Source: Rita Rubin, "50/50 chance of proper health care," USA Today, June 26, 2003; based on Elizabeth A. McGlynn et al., "The Quality of Health Care Delivered to Adults in the United States," June 26, 2003, New England Journal of Medicine.

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