Celebrate the advances of modern medicine, but commit to healing other long-term ills
If someone claimed they could cut the death rate among Americans under age 75 by almost half over the next four decades, it would be big news. Yet research shows that this has actually happened over the past 44 years.
Between 1969 and 2013, deaths from all causes decreased an astonishing 43%, according to a recent report published in JAMA. Why? While public health programs, vaccinations and the introduction of antibiotics increased longevity before 1969, better prevention, new medications, advanced technologies and the sophisticated care that modern hospitals offer provide the rest of the answer.
People with conditions that once spelled almost certain premature death, especially stroke and heart disease, are now surviving. Moreover, they are doing so without losing the functions that lend quality to their lives, allowing them to continue to contribute to society. In 1969, heart attacks were treated with rest, if the victim survived. Strokes, essentially “heart attacks of the brain,” could not be treated. Today, America’s hospitals provide the emergency and critical care that allows patients not only to survive conditions that would have meant certain death four decades ago, but also to maintain—and sometimes even improve—their health.
But there is much more work to do. Yes, we have made great progress in preventing heart disease and stroke through better blood-pressure controls and reduced tobacco use, but we have lost ground to increasing waistlines. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that adult obesity is on the rise, particularly among women. Obesity predisposes us to higher rates of diabetes, and in turn, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. Sadly, if we can’t quickly reduce our obesity rate, America’s youth will not live as long as their parents. That should give us extraordinary motivation to focus on this national crisis.
To truly “bend the cost curve” and spend less on healthcare as a country, we must become a healthier society. Too much of America’s healthcare dollar is directed toward recovering from the ravages of chronic disease. Many of those diseases are fundamentally preventable and controllable, yet catastrophic and expensive when neglected.
Chronic disease in the U.S. is not just a matter of national economics but personal finance. In fact, bad health—from heart disease to diabetes to asthma—disproportionately affects the poor and minority populations. Through efforts to reduce disparities in care and access to health services, the American Hospital Association, along with other organizations across the country, are working hard to address these vexing challenges. The goal is not only equity of care, but ultimately, equity of health and a healthier society.
Despite modern medicine’s advances and our nation’s best efforts to prevent disease, serious illnesses remain inevitable, and the number of people living with chronic conditions is growing. Hospitals are increasingly moving outside of their traditional walls to improve community health and foster overall wellbeing. Today, you see more organiza- tions working with individuals and families to ensure they have healthy food to eat, a safe place to sleep, transportation to needed health services and so much more.
This is an exciting time for the industry. We’ve mapped the human genome, so we can now understand diseases not only by knowing what organ system they strike or what they look like under a microscope, but we can comprehend and alter the biology of disease at a molecular level.
And, thanks to the implementation of electronic health records in hospitals and other healthcare settings, we can increasingly harness “big data” to predict how diseases and illnesses such as sepsis will behave, and design interventions tailored to the individual patient, as we usher in the era of predictive, precision and personalized medicine.
Continuing to help people lead lives that are not only longer but healthier requires the continued availability of sophisticated healthcare in every community. Fundamentally, access to care is a prerequisite for health. Every American deserves access to the right care in the right place at the right time. But to better prevent disease in the first place, we also need to invest in our own health and creating a healthier society.
Investment in our health is not only an investment in the lifeblood of our country, it is a commitment to continued progress over the next 44 years.
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