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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Hazards of Comparisons

Friend Donna Anton, now living in the far southwest of England (Cornwall) and an avid reader of the New York Times via Internet, calls to my attention the article in last Sunday’s edition of the paper titled “Here, if You’ve Got a Pulse, You’re Sick.”

The article reported a study indicating that Brits are healthier than Americans. However, looking into the matter a little further suggests that things are not always as they seem. For one thing, Americans are a lot more compulsive than Brits are about doing screenings for colon cancer, skin cancer, and the like. As a result, we get diagnosed for things that ultimately we die with but don’t die of. In the meantime we add to the statistics of those with the disease, making it appear that we incur the condition more frequently than the Brits, who don’t bother to get the test in the first place.

In the U.K., according to the article, the tradition is one of “independent and perhaps more skeptical primary-care practitioners who are probably slower to label and diagnose people.” Americans, on the other hand, are more likely to say “Do something, Doc. Don’t just stand there.”

The article ended with the story of a medical resident in the U.S. who defined a well person as a patient who hadn’t as yet been completely worked up.

It is a good reminder of the important influence culture has on health care and that what is acceptable in one culture is unacceptable in another.

Those who would duplicate the British health system in the U.S. would be well advised to take note.

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