U.S. Ranks Last on Preventable Deaths Measure

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In a Health Affairs study supported by The Commonwealth Fund, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine determined that the United States ranked last among 19 industrialized countries on a measure of preventable deaths.

The study, "Measuring the Health of Nations: Updating an Earlier Analysis," compared international rates of "amenable mortality" — deaths from certain causes before age 75 that are potentially preventable with timely and effective health care. While the other nations improved dramatically between the two study periods — 1997–98 and 2002–03 — the U.S. improved only slightly on the measure. Previously, the U.S. ranked 15th among the 19 countries.

The measure of deaths amenable to health care is a valuable indicator of health system performance, the authors say, because it is sensitive to improved care, including public health initiatives. It includes causes such as appendicitis and hypertension, as well as illnesses that can be detected early with effective screenings, such as cervical or colon cancer.

According to the authors, if the U.S. had been able to reduce amenable mortality to the average rate achieved by the three top-performing countries, there would have been 101,000 fewer deaths annually by the end of the study period. The top performers were France, Japan, and Australia.