NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

W.H.O.'s Wrong On U.S. Health? Yes, And NBC Report Was Misleading

May 9, 2001

On the Monday, May 7th edition of the NBC Nightly News, health reporter Robert Bazell said: "A new report from the prestigious RAND Corporation says the quality of health care for most Americans is surprisingly poor: The group ranked the U. S. medical establishment 37th in overall performance worldwide."

The RAND researchers' product in Health Affairs (May-June 2001) is not a study but an advocacy article in which they cite a widely criticized report by the World Health Organization ("World Health Report 2000: Health Systems -- Improving Performance") that ranked the U.S. 37th in "overall performance" by eccentric measures of "efficiency" that rate more highly countries with government-run national health systems, even if the quality of health care is relatively poor. [See related article below.]

Bazell goes on to say, "The [RAND] report points out that half of Americans do not get needed preventive care: 40 percent of those with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure do not get proper treatment and 98,000 die a year from medical mistakes."

These last points are indeed made in the Health Affairs article, wherein Elizabeth A. McGlynn and Robert Brook also say, "Deficits in quality of care are not unique to the United States. A summary of the international literature showed that only about half of what is recommended in medicine gets done. Studies of the appropriateness of various diagnostic and therapeutic surgical procedures in the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, and Sweden show similar results to those in the United States."

The main concern of the RAND article is lack of public interest in improving the quality of medical care, and quality is a world-wide problem, "found in countries with very different organizational and financial structures."

Source: Elizabeth A. McGlynn and Robert H. Brook, "Keeping Quality On the Policy Agenda," Health Affairs, May-June 2001; Robert Bazell, "Health Care In Critical Condition," NBC Nightly News, May 7, 2001.

For Health Affairs text (free)


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