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America’s Embarrassing Performance in the Other World Cup

June 16, 2014
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The most popular sporting event in the world is back and being viewed by hundreds of millions, if not more than a billion, people worldwide.

The World Cup is just that big. It’s the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, and Stanley Cup rolled into one. It’s the biggest sport in the world on the biggest stage in the world. Think of it this way, when a country doesn’t perform up to expectations at this event, there are consequences for the people on the team. No one likes a loser. That’s universal. 

Thirty-two teams. One undisputed king of “The Beautiful Game.”  Pride on the line. You won’t get more eyeballs than that.

The U.S. will compete against Ghana today, June 16, and then, Germany and Portugal in the coming days. If the team is lucky and successful enough, it will move onto the elimination round to compete for a chance at the Cup. While soccer is not the country’s first sport (or even its fourth), as many have said in the past, never bet against “Old Glory.” I know I won’t.

Sadly, I can’t feel as remotely self-assured about our chances when it comes to another global competition. That would be the "World Cup” of healthcare, an event that unfortunately is not real but probably should be.

This past week, the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based research and policy improvement nonprofit organization, released a report that is probably the closest we’ll get to a healthcare World Cup. The organization compared the United States’ healthcare system to that of 10 other developed nations in terms of cost, care, and efficiency. Take one guess where we ranked?

Dead last.

Using patient and physician survey results in each country, Commonwealth compared the U.S., Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom against each other. When it comes to equity, efficiency and healthy lives, the U.S. ranked last. It ranked fifth in quality of care, seventh in safe care, and sixth in coordinated care. It ranked ninth in access of care. The only thing it ranked highest in? Health expenditures.

It’s embarrassing. I’d rather lose to Germany 8-0 in soccer than have the costliest, least efficient and equitable healthcare system of all developed nations.

Commonwealth noted that the U.S. ranked last in efficiency because of its “administrative hassles, avoidable emergency room use, and duplicative medical testing.” Those are the reasons why the healthcare IT revolution is vital. In fact, the authors of the Commonwealth report said as much:

Other countries have led in the adoption of modern health information systems, but U.S. physicians and hospitals are catching up as they respond to significant financial incentives to adopt and make meaningful use of health information technology systems.

Indeed, the Commonwealth notes that adoption of this kind of technology will improve the country’s rankings in coordinated care and efficiency, particularly when treating patients with chronic disease.

Also important, Commonwealth suggests, is “public reporting of quality data, payment systems that reward high-quality care, and a team approach to management of chronic conditions.” Combined with the adoption of integrated healthcare IT systems, the report’s authors say the U.S. should make significant improvements in the years to come. 

Until then, we will continue to trail behind our international brethren. It’s too bad a metaphorical “World Cup of healthcare” wouldn’t attract as much attention as the World Cup of soccer. That kind exposure might embarrass us into improving quicker.

After all, no one likes a loser.

Please feel free to respond in the comment section below or on Twitter by following me at @GabrielSPerna