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Healthcare and the coming informatics revolution (part 1)

James Christopher Chris Westland | June 3, 2009
It is likely that Asian nations will invite the same problems facing the United States healthcare system.

Healthcare is the largest industry in the US, and is set to grow even larger as the countrys population ages. Flaws in its healthcare system are emblematic of healthcare in other developed economies, but some of the USs problems are substantially worse than anywhere else in the world, in particular, its profit-first mindset, and extreme balkanisation.   

The US leads the world in medical technology, while other nationsIndia, China, Japan and so forthare developing world-class centres of excellence to rival the US.  It is likely that in doing so, other nations will increasingly invite many of the same problems currently facing US healthcare if they do not carefully manage the integration of informatics and technology into practice.

The US spends twice as much per capita on healthcare as other developed nations, and that expenditure is increasing rapidly. Much of the extravagance is the result of inefficiencies in the system, and the increasing demands of risk management as medicine grows technologically more complex.  The total cost of the system is $2 trillion annually (healthcare + social services + research + risk management) or around 16 per cent of US gross domestic product (GDP), and employs 14 million people.  This is projected to increase to half of US GDP by 2082, according to the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  

Meanwhile, only around half of US citizens are covered by health insurance, or have adequate access to healthcare. And the health of the US populace is significantly worse than that of the countries against which it is benchmarkedFrance, Canada, Germany, Australia, the UK and Japan.  


Figure 1:  The US spends twice as much on healthcare as other developed economies

Healthcare 1 












The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (what has been dubbed Obamas stimulus plan unofficially) was passed and has been signed. It promises to force long overdue changes on Americas inefficient and balkanised healthcare systems. The size of this plan is staggering$800 billion, of which $112.1 billion is allocated to improving healthcare delivery and informatics. To put this in perspective, $112 billion is more than the US spends on the combined army, air force, navy and marines in one year.  


Figure 2: Healthcare expenditures are growing rapidly

 Healthcare 2 











The hope is that this plan will initiate long overdue changes to the healthcare practice and delivery.  If it is successful, it will restructure the existing healthcare industry to accommodate new advances in technology for the good of medicine, rather than merely extracting more money out of patients.   


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