U.S. Ranks Last in Preventable Deaths Among Other Industrialized Nations

Friday, January 18th, 2008
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

The United States places last among 19 countries when it comes to deaths that could have been prevented by access to timely and effective healthcare, according to new research supported by The Commonwealth Fund and published in the January/February issue of Health Affairs. Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine compare trends in deaths that could have been prevented by access to timely and effective healthcare. Specifically, they looked at deaths “amenable to healthcare before age 75 between 1997–98 and 2002–03.”

The study found that:

  • If the U.S. had performed as well as the top three countries out of the 19 industrialized countries in the study, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths in the U.S. per year by the end of the study period. The top performers were France, Japan and Australia.
  • While other countries made strides and saw deaths “amenable to healthcare before age 75” decline by an average of 16 percent, the U.S. experienced only a 4 percent decline.
  • In 1997–98 the U.S. ranked 15th out of 19 countries on the “mortality amenable to healthcare” measure. However, by 2002–03 the U.S. fell to last place, with 109 deaths amenable to healthcare for every 100,000 people.
  • Mortality rates per 100,000 people in the leading countries were: France (64), Japan (71), and Australia (71). The other countries included in the study were Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Study authors state that the measure of deaths amenable to healthcare is a valuable indicator of health system performance because it is sensitive to improved care, including public health initiatives. It considers a range of conditions from which it is reasonable to expect death to be averted even after the condition develops. This includes causes such as appendicitis and hypertension, where the medical nature of the intervention is apparent; it also includes illnesses that can be detected early with effective screenings such as cervical or colon cancer, and tuberculosis which, while acquisition is largely driven by socio-economic conditions, is not fatal when treated in a timely manner.

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