With a new president and a new Congress declaring that the time has come to reform the American healthcare system, at least one recent study indicates a shift in public opinion toward support for an overhaul of the health care system and a growing consensus for universal health care.

Eight in 10 Americans favor fundamental changes to improve quality or a complete rebuild of outdated delivery systems. Among those surveyed, there is broad agreement, regardless of socioeconomics, insurance status and political differences, that health care reform should be a national priority. Respondents want reform to address quality, access and costs, according to this report released last summer, Public Views on U.S. Health System Organization: A Call for New Directions, sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund.

If there was a big surprise, it was the finding that a significant number of people are unhappy with their own health care. A majority of insured (70%) and uninsured (80%) respondents in the survey complained about these issues:

  • Access problems, including trouble getting timely sick visit appointments, phone advice, or after-hours care,
  • Poor care coordination among providers
  • Deficiencies in flow of patient information between providers.

Issues or problems associated with laboratory testing were identified by nearly half (47%) of adults in the survey reported one or more of the following issues:

  • Having a medical test without getting the result;
  • Failure of their physician to provide other providers important information about their medical history or health condition, or failure by other providers to send their doctors results of specialty consults or tests; and,
  • About one-third of the 1,004 participants also said their physicians ordered duplicate tests or tests they felt were unnecessary.

Ninety percent of the adults believe electronic exchange of information would improve coordination of care, quality and their own personal experience, as well as reduce costs. This strong public support for health information technology stands in stark contrast to actual practice. Only 28% of U.S. physicians use electronic medical information technology, compared with 87% of physicians in other developed nations.

Another new study from the Commonwealth Fund suggests that cost of care also is a factor in consumer satisfaction. This study, High Medical Cost Burdens, Patient Trust and Perceived Quality of Care, found that people with high medical costs are the most likely to provide a negative account of their health care experience and may distrust their doctor’s medical decisions, believing the physician is more interested in financial gain than providing necessary and appropriate services.

Interestingly, the report was released the same week as data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showing record use of medical services. The analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics reported a 26% increase in ambulatory care visits between 1996 and 2006, when Americans made an estimated 1.1 billion trips to physician offices, hospital outpatient facilities and emergency departments. The CDC attributes the increase to both an aging population and greater utilization of medical services by older people.

Collectively, the Commonwealth Fund consumer survey and the CDC’s statistics demonstrate that laboratory medicine continues to be positioned as the added value resource for providers and consumers. It remains true that the correct laboratory tests ordered at the proper time can provide providers with the right answers to guide patient care. For their part, consumers want a timely and accurate diagnosis.

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