Healthcare Is Broken, Let’s Fix It, IOM Says

A report says healthcare in the U.S. is too costly and complex and it needs a reboot.

Out-of-control costs, complex systems and uncoordinated patient care are just some of what's wrong with healthcare in the U.S., an IOM report said. (Photo: Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)

Sep 6, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Healthcare is expensive, complicated and in desperate need of an overhaul, says a report out today from the Institute of Medicine.

While the nation shrugs and thinks, “OK, so what else is new?” the 349-page report zeros in on what’s causing the chaos: an inefficient, expensive system clogged with too much information that doesn’t foster coordination among specialists, often leaving patients to suffer.

Talking in purely financial terms, the report estimated that there was $750 billion (yes, billion) in needless health spending just in 2009. Had all states performed as well as the top state in delivering care in 2005, some 75,000 lives might have been saved.

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“The threats to Americans' health and economic security are clear and compelling, and it's time to get all hands on deck,” Dr. Mark D. Smith said in a news release. Smith, president and CEO of California HealthCare Foundation, was also chairman of the committee that issued the report.

“Our health care system lags in its ability to adapt, affordably meet patients' needs, and consistently achieve better outcomes,” he added. “But we have the know-how and technology to make substantial improvement on costs and quality.  Our report offers the vision and road map to create a learning health care system that will provide higher quality and greater value.”

The analysis comes about two months after the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court, and two months before elections. Healthcare has been front and center in state and national politics, with candidates giving their assessments of how healthcare should change.

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The impartial IOM committee drew parallels between healthcare and other industries that seem to be run more effectively. Take builders, for example. They coordinate with a number of other experts—architects, plumbers, electricians—to create structures.

Healthcare facilities? Not so much. Patients who have complex conditions and diseases may need to see a number of specialists and require various treatments, but those are not always coordinated. Information that slips through the cracks could have disastrous results, such as harmful drug interactions.

Banks stay up to date on financial records in real time, but many hospitals and other care facilities aren’t equipped with the latest technology that could make care more immediate. Electronic health records, for example, would make it easier to share information.

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“Americans would be better served by a more nimble health care system that is consis­tently reliable and that constantly, systematically, and seamlessly improves,” a report brief said.

Not only are costs out of control, but patients are often shocked at how much they owe for their treatment. An infographic revealed that 63 percent of patients don’t know their medical costs until they get a bill.

“Left unchanged, health care will continue to underperform; cause unnecessary harm; and strain national, state and family budgets,” the brief said. “The action required to reverse this trend will be notable, substantial, sometimes disruptive—and absolutely necessary.”

What would you do to overhaul healthcare? Let us know in the comments.

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