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A Change of Perception?

Posted on Feb 06, 2009 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: Healthcare, insurance, Japan, Medical, USA

Imagine this; one morning while walking down the street, minding your own business, on the way to meeting your friends in the park, when all of a sudden a motorcyclist on the road looses control of his bike and crashes into you. This type of incident, while not pleasant, happens on a daily basis all around the world. We would like to think that help is given to the victims of such accidents in a prompt and efficient manner, especially in first world countries. However, the truth of what happens in the aftermath of a serious road accident is often scary enough to make a person drastically reconsider their views on the modern healthcare industry.

A recent accident in Tokyo, mirroring the example illustrated above, left a 69 year old pedestrian dead after a biker lost control of his vehicle. His death, however, has been blamed on massive failures in the Japanese healthcare service, rather than on the operator of the motorbike. Paramedics arrived on the scene minutes after the incident, but then spent the next 90 minutes trying to convince hospitals to admit the injured senior. The total number of hospitals that they tried was a shockingly high 14. That is, 14 hospitals turned away a seriously injured elderly man, and by the time he was admitted into hospital number 15 his condition has deteriorated so much that there was nothing that healthcare workers could do to prevent his imminent demise.

The biker? He was admitted for treatment at the third hospital paramedics tried and is now recovering from his injuries.


This is not the first time that this type of situation has occurred in Japan. In 2006 a pregnant woman was refused treatment at 19 hospitals and died eight days later from a brain hemorrhage while giving birth.

The reason for this state of affairs is cited as being due to the growing strain on the Japanese public health system from an aging population, dwindling manpower, and massive overcrowding. The situation is getting so bad that in the past 2 years more than 14,000 emergency patients have been refused entry and treatment due to overcrowding at various medical facilities. To make matters worse the Japanese government cannot legally punish hospitals that turn away patients while claiming that they are full.

The Japanese healthcare system is based on a form of universal coverage backed by a state run insurance scheme (rather than contribute your tax dollars, you pay for a universal "insurance policy" out of your salary). Under this type of healthcare service individuals are "guaranteed" equality of access and fees; certainly an admirable goal and one mirrored by a number of national health systems around the world. In reality however, these types of universal services are falling drastically short of their intended targets, especially when one considers the examples provided by Japan.

The question here is; if a first world nation known for its technological prowess, strong social services, and high quality of living is failing at providing adequate healthcare protection and services for its population, then what is happening in third world nations? Even leaving aside the third world, you need only look at the United Kingdom and the USA to see that the current healthcare objectives all over the globe are in serious need of a major facelift, and even then, the risk is high that patients will continue to be left out in the cold (quite literally) without the care and treatment that they need.

The proponents of national healthcare coverage will cite equality of care and cost cutting as the primary reasons for installing such systems, and with the financial meltdown over the last 8 months, private healthcare and insurance are looking like very unattractive options for a majority of individuals around the world. The problems associated with the Japanese healthcare service may just be regulatory in nature. In the USA, for example, emergency rooms cannot legally turn you away (even if you do not have a penny to your name), and will at least guarantee you stabilization. However, wouldn't it be better if you were guaranteed quality, comprehensive healthcare, rather than just stabilization?

While private health insurance has received a bad rap, especially in the domestic USA, it at least guarantees a policyholder that they will receive medical attention in a quick and efficient manner. Furthermore, there is an abundance of choice when it comes to private health insurance; national healthcare plans provided by a government tend not to be so diverse. There is a question of price however, but the answer there is simple, you get what you pay for, as is true with any product or service in the modern world.

The simple truth of the issue is this, it doesn't matter if you are covered by a private health insurance plan, or a national universal one, because healthcare systems all over the world are in dire need of an overhaul, and have been for quite some time. Perpetually rising costs and massive overcrowding are increasingly becoming the norm, no matter where you may be located.

For the average individual there is not much that can be done at this point in time other than to wait and see what action is taken by various governments, especially the USA.

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