The cost of medical care in the United States is frequently compared with the cost of medical care in other western nations. But does the higher cost of US medicine reflect a higher level of care? Let me give you a comparison.
Mr Atkins developed left-sided weakness while at the grocery store. His wife called for medical advice and I directed her to take him to the emergency room for prompt evaluation.
Several hours later I received a call from the ER physician reporting on Mr. Atkins’ neurologic status. The doctor had already checked the carotid circulation in his neck with a Doppler ultrasound and performed a CAT scan of his brain. This allowed prompt institution of treatment.
The reason for the prompt evaluation of a stroke is that early treatment may prevent permanent brain damage. For example, if the cause of the weakness is partial obstruction of the carotid artery that supplies the brain with blood and oxygen, prompt surgical removal of the obstructing plaque can restore circulation and prevent damage to the brain. Some of the newer medical drugs can dissolve a fresh clot in the vessels.
MEDLINE reports that there are 19 new drugs in development for the treatment of strokes. Many have to be used during the early evolving stages of a stroke. But what good will all this medical research do if the benefits can’t be used?
This type of medical technology is not available to 95% of the world’s people. Friends of ours from London, who come to Sacramento every year for our Jazz festival, explained the absence of their drummer last year. They said that he’d had a stroke. He was hospitalized in a London suburb. He had not improved after a week and his doctor requested a CAT scan of his brain. The hospital did not have a CAT scanner and none were available except in the larger hospitals of London. This patient had to be transferred to such a hospital so that a CAT scan of his brain could be accomplished. However, so much time had elapsed since the initial episode, that the treatment was no longer beneficial.
The next time someone suggests we adopt a government plan from some other country, just remember that the level of care in a small suburban hospital in this country is frequently better than in the largest hospitals in many parts of the world, including those we think are advance or developed countries like the UK.