System is the Third Leading Cause of Death
Starfield, M.D. (2000)
Summary by Kah Ying Choo
This Journal of
the American Medical
Association article illuminates the failure of the U.S. medical system
in providing decent medical care for Americans.
In spite of the rising health care costs that
provide the illusion of
improving health care, the American people do not enjoy good health,
compared with their counterparts in the industrialized nations.
Among thirteen countries including Japan, Sweden, France and Canada, the
U.S. was ranked 12th, based on the measurement of 16 health indicators
such as life expectancy, low-birth-weight averages and infant mortality.
In another comparison reported by the World Health Organization that
used a different set of health indicators, the U.S. also fared poorly
with a ranking of 15 among 25 industrialized nations.
Although many people attribute poor health to the bad habits of the American public, Starfield (2000) points
out that the Americans do not lead an unhealthy lifestyle compared to
their counterparts. For example, only 28 percent of the male
population in the U.S. smoked, thus making it the third best nation in
the category of smoking among the 13 industrialized nations. The
U.S. population also achieved a high ranking (5th best) for alcohol
consumption. In the category of men aged 50 to 70 years, the U.S.
had the third lowest mean cholesterol concentrations among 13
industrialized nations. Therefore, the perception that the American
public’s poor health is a result of their negative health habits is
Even more significantly, the medical system
has played a large role in undermining the health of
Americans. According to several research studies in the last
decade, a total of 225,000 Americans per year have died as a result of
their medical treatments:
||• 12,000 deaths per year due to
7000 deaths per year due to medication errors in hospitals
• 20,000 deaths per year due to other
errors in hospitals
• 80,000 deaths per
year due to infections in hospitals
106,000 deaths per year due to negative effects of drugs
Thus, America's healthcare-system-induced deaths are the third
leading cause of the death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer.
One of the key problems of the U.S. health system
is that as many as 40 million people in the U.S. do not have
access to healthcare. The social and economic inequalities that
are an integral part of American society are mirrored in the inequality
of access to the health care system. Essentially, families of low
socioeconomic status are cut off from receiving a decent level of health
By citing these statistics, Starfield (2000)
highlights the need to examine
the type of health care provided to the U.S. population. The
traditional medical paradigm that emphasizes the use of prescription
medicine and medical treatment has not only failed to improve the
health of Americans, but also led to the decline in the overall
well-being of Americans. Starfield’s (2000) comparison of the
medical systems of Japan and the U.S. captures the fundamental
differences in the treatment approach. Unlike the U.S., Japan has
the healthiest population among the industrialized nations.
Instead of relying on sophisticated technology and professional
personnel for medical treatment as in the U.S., Japan uses its
technology solely for diagnostic purposes. Furthermore, in Japan,
family members, rather than hospital staff, are involved in caring for
The success of the Japanese medical system
testifies to the dire need for
Americans to alter their philosophical approach towards health and
treatment. In the blind reliance on drugs, surgery, technology
and medical establishments, the American medical system
has inflicted more harm
than good on the U.S. population.
article is invaluable in unveiling the catastrophic effects of the
medical treatments provided to the American people. In order to
improve the medical system, American policymakers and the medical
establishment need to adopt a comprehensive approach and critically
examine the failure of the richest country in the world to provide
decent health care for its people. The reason that they have
difficulty doing that is explained on the following page.
Starfield, B. (2000, July 26). Is US health
really the best in the world? Journal of the American Medical
Association, 284(4), 483-485.
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