Friday, October 21, 2011

US versus European health care

Sherman Hospital in Illinois
Photo by James Jordan
I've had occasion to experience health care in the US, the UK and the Netherlands. Overall the quality of the care appears to have been about the same. Even those who argue most fervently in favor of the US profit-based model have to admit that European health care costs are far lower than US health care costs, even the Netherlands, whose health care system most closely resembles that of the United States, is doing a better job of managing both access to care and costs.

When I was younger, I've personally struggled with lack of health care when I was younger, including many years of dealing with a life-threatening medical condition which could be cured with a simple surgery. A surgery, I might add, that I finally received after getting a job with health insurance and waiting a year for the "pre-existing condition" clause to no longer be effective. After I finally got that surgery, I wound up deaf in my right ear and bankrupt. Yes, you read that right. I was "covered" by medical insurance and declared bankruptcy due to the costs it did not cover. They weren't huge costs, but I was poor.

But let's ignore even that. Let's forget about cost and access to health care. There's one telling difference I've repeatedly noticed between European and US hospitals.

The European hospitals I've been in were utilitarian affairs, often looking like they desperately needed a fresh coat of paint. US hospitals were invariable chrome, glass and steel. They drip with money.

When I was recently in the US and visiting a friend, she had occasion to visit a hospital and while I was with her, I was simply amazed at how new and expensive everything was. The health care system in the US not only takes all of your money, but it's letting you know it. I would love to see studies comparing how much money is spent on hospital architecture (not the medical technology) in the US versus the rest of the world. I suspect it would be an eye-opening bit of information. I certainly don't know that US hospitals spend more money on their construction and making them look attractive; it could certainly just be the few hospitals I've attended. I'd be curious to know what others have experienced (such as this description of a Greek hospital).