Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Views on the user-friendliness of healthcare systems: a global survey

Between May and August 2005, HSCNews International conducted a global survey of health campaigners. The survey asked campaigners about the user-friendliness of their national healthcare systems. Respondents commented on six key indicators of system user-friendliness. The indicators were:

(1) Access to a second opinion.

(2) Same-day access to a doctor in a non-emergency situation.

(3) Availability of private health insurance for care that is not reimbursed by the main healthcare system.

(4) Access to repeat prescriptions.

(5) Access to personal medical records.

(6) Access to round-the-clock medical advice and information.

The survey received responses from 406 health campaigners from 38 different countries. The groups participating in the survey specialised in a wide range of healthcare issues and diseases.

Summary of survey findings:

Despite the willingness of politicians in many countries to make patients’ needs paramount, and the existence of legislation and policies to promote the cause of healthcare users, this HSCNews International survey found that none of the healthcare systems around the world could be regarded as truly user-friendly.

That said, Western Europe performed best in the survey. Some 30-50% of the 108 participants from the region affirmed that their country performed well for the six HSCNews indicators of user-friendliness. Just behind was Australasia and the Pacific Rim, where national healthcare systems performed at a level similar to those of Eastern Europe. The countries of North and Central America, by contrast, were among the worst performers in the survey. Approval ratings from campaigners in the region never reached higher than 31%.

One of the survey’s most surprising findings was the poor rating that the 41 respondents from Canada gave their country’s healthcare system. Canada has long claimed a high-quality healthcare system that provides universal access. Yet Canadian health campaigners responding to the survey were scathing about their healthcare system’s ability to give access to doctors in non-emergency situations, access to repeat prescriptions, access to medical records, and access to round-the-clock healthcare information.

Canadian respondents indicated that a national shortage of GPs and specialists, coupled with a patriarchial attitude among the medical profession, are to blame for the inadequate user-friendliness of their country’s healthcare system. According to one respondent, 40% of people living in Ontario do not have access to a family doctor. Another respondent explained that, despite the shortfall in numbers of medical professionals, Canadian doctors are usually unwilling to write a repeat prescription without seeing the patient because these consultations supply income to the doctors.

Canadian respondents told HSCNews that Canadian patients who cannot get access to the care they think they need are sometimes forced to travel to other countries to receive it, or (if they cannot afford that) to put themselves forward as candidates for clinical research.

Lots of scope for improvement all over the world !

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