Study: U.S. Needs a Comprehensive National Health Strategy

The United States needs to formulate a consistent national strategy to address life expectancy and overall health, according to recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).  “Although the United States invests over 17 percent of its gross domestic product on medical care – far more than any nation – we lag behind other countries in several measures of health,” said Marthe Goldman, chairwoman of the committee that wrote the report.  “Our understanding of more effective and efficient strategies for improving health is hampered by inadequacies in the current system.”

The IOM report, which was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,  notes that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should take the lead to coordinate and provide pertinent health information and statistics to Americans.  Additionally, HHS should assist in efforts to integrate population health data collection, analysis and reporting, as well as offer guidance on how to develop health indicators and analyze the effects of these over time.  Finally, the nation should adopt a single-summary measure of the population’s health to serve as the GDP equivalent for the health sector.

Typically, the United States and other nations have used death rates as the standard measure of population health.  “However, life expectancy is a blunt tool.  It cannot capture the diminution in life experience and capacities that is associated with the chronic illnesses and injuries that are of increasing prevalence in modern society,” according to the report.

The International Health Partnership, which is dedicated to improving health services and health outcomes, issued a white paper in July, 2009, assessing national health strategies and plans.  According to the paper, “The way a joint assessment is done will be unique to each country, but based on some key principles:  it will be country demand driven; be country led and build on existing processes; be as light as possible without being superficial; include an independent element; and engage civil society and other relevant stakeholders.”

Australia has taken the lead in setting a comprehensive national healthcare strategy.  With the goal of being the world’s healthiest country by 2020, the strategy set in April, 2008, by the National Preventative Health Task Force for the Minister for Health and Ageing focuses on eating healthier foods; reducing obesity; smoking cessation; and addressing the health and social issues associated with heavy drinking.

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