It’s Not Really Health Care

Everyone has a lot going on this week, so I’m going to keep it short and sweet.

There continues to be a lot of talk about why measures of obesity and infant mortality are so high in the U.S. relative to other Western countries. These kinds of measures are commonly employed to assess the overall health of a population. As a country, the U.S. spends significantly more for medical care. Why, then, does it not translate into improved health outcomes?

The purpose of health care is to improve health at all levels: the individual, the family, and, of course, the entire population as a whole. Measures of health are a good way, the ultimate way in fact, to determine if a health care system is actually achieving its goals. Assuming the system works as it should, the greater the resources invested in health care, the better our health should be. Should be. But it isn’t. Health care means caring for health. Health is related to the word whole. Being in good health is like being whole. Which is why you sometimes hear people say that they feel broken when they are chronically ill.

So why is it that the outlay of more money has not resulted in better health outcomes in the U.S.? Because ours is not a “health care” system, but rather a medical care system. Our system is designed to provide not health care, but rather medical care. Medical care is critical for any number of situations, such as kidney failure, severe burns, diabetic ketoacidosis, traumatic head injuries, hip fractures, heart attacks, lung cancer, and the like. But let’s not confuse it with health care. Some, if not most, of us will require expert medical care at certain times of our lives. But all of us will receive substantial benefit from good health care almost all the days of our lives. We have a great medical care system in this country. But we don’t have much of a health care system.

The end result of having confused medical care with health care is a population that develops more illness and therefore requires and receives more medicines, more procedures, more medical interventions. That is not the same as health care.

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