Healthcare has taken on a particularly important role in the cultural zeitgeist in recent years. This focus is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a sudden and intense pressure and scrutiny on healthcare services worldwide as the coronavirus rapidly and dangerously swept from nation to nation. Doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health facilities were all suddenly working at maximum capacity in order to treat and contain the virus on top of all the existing medical conditions and injuries.
There has also been an increased interest in healthcare as a result of the slow but steady saturation of television and film screens with dramas, comedies, and romances set in hospitals or other healthcare environments. In the past two or three decades, healthcare has become an increasingly popular film for many pieces of media. Grey’s Anatomy is perhaps the most famous, but other shows and films such as Scrubs, This Is Going to Hurt, Patch Adams and The Good Doctor (to name but a few) have placed a collective mind firmly in the habits and routines of doctors and nurses in various healthcare environments.
The field of healthcare is not always as it appears on TV, however! Like any profession, the medical professions are complicated, and the history of the work is filled with complexities, mistakes, and medical miracles which shape the way in which hospitals and other healthcare centers are run to this day. Healthcare systems also differ vastly from country to country – or even from city to city! – which means that elements of a hospital in New York may shock a doctor in Japan to their core. Or vice versa!
If knowing more about the practice of healthcare, its history, and its current forms around the world is something that interests you, here are 4 interesting facts about healthcare. Trot these out around the water cooler at work, on your next zoom chat with cousins, or at your next dinner party when the subject of Meredith Grey’s latest exploits inevitably arises.
1. Medical Practices Differ Wildly in Different Countries
If you’d only ever experienced the American healthcare system before, you’d be surprised to find that it works very differently in other places. For a start, there are many countries – like the UK, Canada, and the Nordic Countries – where medical and health insurance are entirely covered by the state. The idea behind this practice of offering free healthcare is to support populations fairly in addressing their medical needs. Many of these systems developed in the wake of the Second World War when the feeling for social support programs was widely positive.
There are also places where the interactions between doctors and patients is very different. For example, in Japan, it is common to go and see your doctor frequently and without an appointment! In Germany, doctors can prescribe entire spa days which are covered by health insurance, in order to address issues of stress and muscle tension.
2. Nurses Are the Real Stars
In most of the television shows and films cited above, doctors play the leading roles. All the drama happens between surgeons and doctors, and if nurses ever appear it is in a supporting facility to the main action of the plot. This could not be more different from real life! In reality, nurses are the stars of hospital life, staying on top of each patient’s recovery, liaising between administrators, doctors, families, and patients, and keeping track of everything that goes on everywhere in the facility!
Nurses are integral to the work of a hospital, and they receive training to reflect that. While many believe that nurses are far less trained than doctors, in fact, nurses receive a significant amount of on-the-job training, too. Courses for nursing offer nurse practitioner clinicals to ensure that every newly qualified nurse is capable of exercising their knowledge in practice before beginning their career.
Nursing is also an ancient profession! The first nursing school known to have existed was in India in 250 BCE.
3. American Healthcare Spending Increased 760% in 50 Years
Unlike countries such as Canada, the UK, Denmark, and Norway, the United States has a private healthcare system, which means that individuals are responsible for paying their own healthcare costs. In 1960 healthcare spending was, on average, $1,082 per person. In 2010 – 50 years later – the average healthcare spending per person was $8,218. That’s an increase of over 700%! Another related healthcare cost fact: a quarter of Americans regularly throw out their prescription slips because they cannot afford to pay for them.
4. Global Life Expectancy Is On The Rise – Sort Of
According to the World Health Organization, the amount of time an average person is expected to live is on the rise. In fact, between the years 2000 and 2015, it increased by five years! This could be due to the increase in medical research which has allowed for the creation of more and better medical technology. It could also be due to the fact that education systems worldwide are increasingly prioritizing health education, teaching children as young as three or four years old that there are certain things they must do in order to take care of their bodies.
Accessible healthcare has also influenced life expectancy. In places where there is uneven access to health services, according to WHO, life expectancy goes down. According to research, one child in every 14 children born in a low-income country will die before their fifth birthday. Also in low-income countries, where health services are scarce, 1 in 41 women is expected to die in childbirth, for example. This is compared with 1 in 3300 in high-income countries.
While there is a general trend for the better in life expectancy, overall, it is still an uneven field depending on what healthcare system is serving the population in question. Hopefully in the future better access to global health services will result in fairer and more equal life expectancy for all.