In the United States, low life expectancy is rising due to unresolved chronic mental conditions and other recurring illnesses. Low clinician to patient ratios make diagnosis difficult.
To make matters worse, the fragmented US medical system adds more pressure to public health professionals and clinicians who work tirelessly to improve patient outcomes.
With all of this in mind, can the US improve quality of care while lowering costs? Several other developed countries have asked the same question over past decades. They have begun to create paradigms that focus on whole person wellness and primary care.
This primary care model seems to be making a positive impact on population health and chronic conditions in these countries. And while the US has it own healthcare strengths, there’s plenty we can learn from primary healthcare led countries. For our purposes, let’s compare New Zealand and United States health systems.
What’s the same?
Patient to clinician ratios
While NZ and the US operate differently in healthcare, they do have some similarities that are worth noting. In particular, they both have comparable patient to clinician ratios. This is important since the US is facing a ratio crisis. NZ, on the other hand, has been implementing measures that utilize clinician ratios efficiently, thereby stabilizing and improving public health.
Rise of chronic illness
Another important similarity is the rising concern of chronic illness. New Zealand is facing comparable chronic disease to the US. However, NZ can more easily scale to meet the need because of their efficient use of primary care.
Differences between NZ and US healthcare
In discussing the differences between both systems, it’s important to recognize that both countries have their own set of challenges. However, NZ healthcare offers a helpful case study for primary care that the US can benefit from. Let’s look at some of these points of contrast.
Average life expectancy
A common metric in evaluating health outcomes is life expectancy. Since the 1980s the US, in relation to other developing countries, has fallen behind. Currently, the average lifespan for citizens is 76 years old in comparison to New Zealand’s average of 79 years.
Many factors contribute to shorter life expectancy in the US. However, it’s worth noting that this phenomenon occurred after NZ and the US chose different paths for population health management.
Quality of health system in relation to cost
NZ ranks #4 in the world for quality of care and cost of care,. The US, on the other hand, is #41. NZ has become better at preventing disease and intervening before illness progress to more serious stages.
Their system of medicine encourages quality and lowered costs by focusing on primary health care. Patients have consistent contact with their primary care physician which improves access to care management tools as well as medical advice. By integrating healthcare in this way, some hospitals have seen admissions decrease by as much as 26%. ER visits have also decreased by 29%.
The United States leads the world in biomedical research and health IT advancements. However, this progress doesn’t necessarily translate into better outcomes for patients, including those at risk for developing chronic diseases. Despite the creation of new technology, patients in the US struggle to get access to the care they need.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has become adept at improving and preventing patient conditions with primary care.
This integrated approach to family medicine enables the patient to counteract a wide swath of contributing disease factors. In addition, primary care sticks with the patient for the long run. Primary care care teams monitor and enable patients to take preventative action and limit disease.
Coordination of care
Care coordination is complicated because the US health system is fragmented between individual, group, and government policies. In addition, most physician practices aren’t united under a nationally consolidated system.
All of these factors make it difficult to coordinate care between physicians and specialists. It directly impacts the outcomes of patients with chronic diseases and comorbidities. In short, coordination of care has major implications for the chronic disease crisis facing the world at large.
NZ is still grappling with issues of coordination and communication. However, as a whole they’re addressing the problems and making headway. For starters, their system is integrated, including payment systems and medical professionals. This makes it easier for patient records to be shared between primary care physicians, specialists, and others. By making communication easier, NZ is enabling patients to get the care they need when they need it.
Primary care approach
Only 12.3% of the US population engages in primary care. Contrast that with 9 out of 10 New Zealanders who use primary care.
Greater use of primary care resources can help enable more disease control and prevention for patients while also decreasing medical expenditures. In short, NZ has found a way to lower costs and improve outcomes by centering around primary care and enabling prevention.
What can the US learn from this comparison?
Historically whole-person wellness has had soft connotations in the US. The reality is, though, that a focus on wellness through primary care is positively impacting population health in other developed countries. But how can whole-person health be implemented into the current US medical paradigm?
Health systems can encourage implementation of holistic care despite the fragmented health system in the US. For instance, a system like Melon integrates with clinician workflow to enable seamless patient engagement and self-management. In addition, Melon offers health coaches that alleviate the burden of care from clinicians.
Primary healthcare led countries also involve community and family into patient’s wellness plan. That’s why Melon emphasizes online support groups where patients can learn from other peer “experts.”
The US has plenty of medical strengths, but there’s much we can learn from primary healthcare led countries. Health systems and integrated delivery networks don’t have to wait for the national medical paradigm to shift. They can begin implementing whole-person wellness now to improve patient outcomes and decrease costs.