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The Search for Quality Health Care

The United States leads the world in health care spending per person by a large margin. Despite the willingness to spend huge quantities of money, the likelihood of receiving substandard care or being the victim of medical malpractice is surprisingly high. We rank 50th in the world in total life expectancy and 47th in infant mortality. Many estimates place the number of preventable deaths suffered at the hands of medical providers at or above 100,000 per year. Most Americans have no idea how to go about finding a quality health care provider.

A new book by Dr. Otis Webb Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society discusses the situation and includes real world examples of people, with and without health insurance, receiving low quality health care. Some patients receive unnecessary and unproven treatments. Others receive treatments that have been proven ineffective or counter-productive. It highlights the inconsistent and sometimes dangerous nature of the care many receive in this country.

Part of the problem comes from the way American view doctors. Medicine is a large, profitable industry in the United States. Doctors and other health care providers often have financial incentives to push unproven treatments and unnecessary treatments on patients. In virtually every other industry, consumers are aware that businesses have financial motives and they take steps to protect their own interests before agreeing to accept services. In a medical setting, patients will often agree to whatever is presented to them, without doing any research or asking questions about alternatives.

Finding a reliable health care provider is a difficult or even impossible task for many. Overtreatment, ignorance and neglect are rampant in the health care industry and patients can easily be left with little to no recourse when they receive poor care. The few protections that victims of medical malpractice have are being eroded by malpractice caps and burdensome legislation. If patients are unwilling to stand up for themselves, the problems are likely to get worse before they get better.

Source: CNN Health, "How doctors do harm," by Otis Brawley, 30 January 2012

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