I was recently lucky enough to spend some time in Europe. We saw ancient aqueducts and sewers (early public health initiatives), some of the oldest buildings in the world, and ate too much cheese. Luckily I didn’t need to interact with the health care system in any of these countries – but I can’t help but wonder how it would compare to ours in the United States and within Washington State. Especially how much I would be expected to pay.

Two of my favorite blog authors, Aaron Carroll and Austin Frakt, who deliver the Incidental Economist into my inbox every morning, co-authored an excellent New York Times article, The Best Health Care System in the World: Which One Would You Pick? In bracket “March madness” style, the authors compare our health care system with Canada, Britain, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Australia. Not to spoil the article – but the United States does not come out on top and, “To nobody’s surprise, the United States could do better at balancing health care costs with access, quality and outcomes. But there are many ways to reach that goal, and there will always be trade-offs. Learning about them from other systems and debating them honestly would probably do us a lot of good.”

So how can we learn other than flying to Heathrow and promptly breaking a leg? The Commonwealth Fund has an interactive website profiling nineteen health care systems – showing the different roles for government and private insurance as well as comparing benefit design and cost both to individuals and to the system. The Kaiser Family Foundation also routinely compares our country’s health care quality with those of other countries – showing us to have a higher disease burden, hospital admission for preventable diseases, and more errors. We do outperform on measures of post-op sepsis, post-op clots, and five-year survival rates for certain cancers. Pros and Cons. Comparing our country to others is a popular topic. Read articles from the Guardian, LA Times, Forbes, and the Economist.

I’m not lucky enough to travel for a living like Rick Steves – although if you see him in Edmonds be sure to ask him about his European health care experiences – but we can encourage our country to look beyond our own borders for ways to improve.

Ginny Weir, MPH
Program Director, Bree Collaborative