in the World
Written By: Randy Smith
Over my career, I have had the opportunity to visit and live in countries throughout the world. As I have experienced the quality and availability of healthcare in various countries, I have grown to appreciate what we have in the United States, even though it is not perfect.
I have a former coworker in Canada that is on a hospital board for a large hospital facility. She often told me of her frustrations with providing service amid the government restrictions. When the government wanted to reduce costs, they made the hospital close off a complete wing. The hospital was not allowed to admit patients into that section of the hospital even though they needed the rooms for existing patients. This resulted in patients being sent home even though they needed hospital care. I don't know how they decided which patients got to stay and which were sent away.
While I was living in Belgium, a friend was admitted to the hospital for the removal of a growth on his arm and his thyroid. We often visited him and smuggled in food because the only food he was offered was coffee, bread, and cheese. Since he didn’t drink coffee, he asked if he could have the milk instead. He was denied the milk and told he could only have water. At the same time, the man in one of the other beds in his room kept a case of wine under his bed and would have friends over to party and get drunk while in the hospital. Also in Belgium, an older friend in his 80's had a stroke, but because of his age and lack of service availability in the hospital, he had to wait four months to see a doctor and was told to stay in bed. By the time the four months were over, he was crippled on one side. If this had happened in the United States, he could have had immediate treatment that may have left him with little or no lasting effects from the stroke.
During a visit to South Korea, I was visiting a historical site with some friends and heard a commotion near a rock wall overlooking a 25-foot drop to a steep, wooded area. We went to see what the commotion was all about. We looked over the drop and saw that an elderly man had fallen off of the wall and rolled down through the trees. An American serviceman was the first one there and was helping but didn't speak Korean. My friend and I hurried to help, and my Korean speaking friend was able to communicate with the injured man. I was concerned the injured man may have hurt his back because his legs were not moving. While we waited for the ambulance to arrive, my friend comforted the injured man, and I intercepted small boulders that kept rolling down the hill toward us. When emergency services arrived, the ambulance crew brought down a stretcher and did not even check the man for injuries. They just picked him up and put him on the stretcher then tied him down amidst his screams of pain. We helped to lift the stretcher up the hill, and the ambulance crew took him away. It concerned me that at no time was the man checked to see what his injuries might be. As I talked with my friend about my concerns, he said that he has seen people injured on the street and, instead of waiting for emergency medical personnel, they felt it was safest to just put the injured person in a car and drive them directly to the hospital. The ambulance drivers are not trained on how to treat the injured and just transport the patient, often compounding the injuries.
"I strongly feel there could be changes and improvements to what we have in the United States, but also feel we have the best health care systems in the world."
I have a son that is currently in a medical residency and have been impressed with the requirements he had to meet to get into medical school and the training he has received during medical school and his residency. As I have talked with friends and coworkers in other countries, it has amazed me that they talked about shortcuts their children and others could take if they could not qualify for medical school, or if they wanted to get through a lot faster. The medical education is often shortened and simplified so they can become a "doctor," although their experience and training is marginal.
As much as people complain about the health care in the United States, most people have never experienced or witnessed what goes on in the rest of the world. We consider our healthcare expensive and inadequate, but never really understand the other costs of getting the same service in other parts of the world, if it is available at all. While visiting Canada, I was surprised to see television advertising for health insurance because I thought it was all included with the government-provided health care. When I asked my Canadian friends, they explained that government-provided health care only covered very basic service but did not include anything that might be out of the ordinary or may have higher costs, including most treatments and medications. At the time, you could pay an additional $140+ per month and qualify for the higher-end medical care you would not normally be able to get. Additionally, a couple of years ago, all of the doctors in Canada agreed to take a 10% pay cut so they would have enough funds to provide for additional, critical medical staff and facilities.
On the surface, other countries seem to have solved the problem of providing high-quality health care for their citizens, but I have never found that to be the case. For me, I feel very grateful to be able to get high quality, available health care from well trained medical staff. I strongly feel there could be changes and improvements to what we have in the United States, but also feel we have the best health care systems in the world.