At its best, American healthcare in the 21st century is world beating. Incredible strides in prevention, diagnosis and therapeutic services have been made in the past 100 years. We can prevent and cure diseases that were a certain death sentence a few years ago, and life expectancy has gone from age 47 to age 77 in 25 years.
However, this level of care isn’t available to all Americans. Millions can’t afford insurance at all, and many who do have insurance don’t have access to adequate care. The biggest challenge is to reduce the escalating costs, while improving both availability of care, and its quality.
One strategy for meeting this challenge is Managed Care. This includes a variety of techniques and tools designed to reduce costs and improve quality, and it’s now used by the majority of private health benefit programs. However, most critics believe this strategy has failed in its objective of keeping costs down.
A major requirement for healthcare in the 21st century is universal electronic health records. A lot of progress has been made, but there are still a lot of gaps in coverage. When the system is widely adopted, it will have a major effect in increasing efficiency, and thus reducing costs and improving quality.
Another scheme which should provide more access to affordable healthcare is the tax-free HSA, or Health Savings Accounts, system, provided through employers. By 2012, nearly half of all companies were offering these plans. They give consumers a greater stake in their own healthcare, and more control over their healthcare decisions.
If there’s one major challenge to healthcare in the 21st century, it’s the escalation of chronic diseases, like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, that are linked to preventable causes. This is currently the biggest threat to the health of most Americans. What’s more, these diseases account for 75 percent of healthcare costs.
The major factors in these diseases include smoking, bad diet and lack of exercise, and obesity rates have more than tripled in the last 25 years. One positive step has been the setting up of the Federal Fund for Prevention and Public Health, as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Public health interventions, such as encouraging better behaviors, have been proved to affect a dramatic increase in the impact of expanding health insurance coverage.
Healthcare in the 21st century is a system of contrasts — the world’s best quality care on the one hand, and on the other, inefficiencies, soaring costs, inequalities in care, and increasing numbers of uninsured. There are a number of strategies in place to restrain costs, enhance quality and increase access, and it’s to be hoped that some of these will succeed. Success will bring about a system which the population deserves, and of which the country can be proud.