In a recently reported study in the journal Health Affairs, supported by The Commonwealth Fund, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine determined that the United States ranked last among 19 industrialized countries on a measure of preventable deaths.
The study, "Measuring the Health of Nations: Updating an Earlier Analysis," compared rates of "amenable mortality" before age 75. This means death from causes that are preventable with timely and effective health care. Other nations improved dramatically between the two study periods, 1997-98 and 2002-03, while the U.S. improved only slightly on the measure. Previously, the U.S. had ranked 15th among the 19 countries.
This measure of preventable deaths is a valuable indicator of health system performance, because it measures what we care about most, namely, is our health care effective? The measures include causes such as appendicitis and hypertension, as well as illnesses that can be detected early with effective screenings, such as cervical or colon cancer.
The authors state that if the U.S. had achieved the average rate of the three top-performing countries, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths annually by the end of the study period. The top performing countries were France, Japan, and Australia, all of which have various forms of organized, universal coverage for their populations.