Dr. Elson Haas
written by
Dr. Elson Haas

Jan 28, 2017

Cuba has been in the news a lot recently with Castro’s death and the debate over Trump’s possible roll back of the normalization of relations that President Obama initiated. While the US has had an antagonistic relationship with its close neighbor for over 50 years, maybe there’s something we could learn from them when it comes to health care.

Their per capita cost for health care is just over $800 per year while in the US it is over $9,400, yet the two countries have almost identical rankings in the World Health Organization’s assessment of health outcomes, such as life expectancy.

Why does the United States spend so much money on health care without seeing the kinds of returns you would expect from such a huge investment? Might it be our unhealthy diet, our laziness about exercise, or the stress of our fast-paced lifestyle? It’s likely all of that plus the profit motive within our healthcare system and the use of fancy equipment, expensive testing and life-saving heroics in hospitals. It’s just that this costly care often doesn’t really improve health or add much real quality of life.

I write about all of this in my recent book, Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine and suggest steps we can take to improve the situation based on my 40 years of practice as an integrative family physician.

Here are some highlights from a recent article by James Hamblin in The Atlantic titled How Cubans live as long as Americans at a Tenth of the Cost. Many of these ideas reflect my own.

– In Cuba health care is considered a fundamental human right – it is protected under their constitution.

– Unlike the often-fragmented US system where people bounce around between specialists and hospitals, Cuba fosters a holistic approach centered on a relationship with a primary-care physician. They have twice as many doctors per capita as the US.

The focus is on keeping people healthy. These doctors provide regular health check ups, which involve the normal physical exams, but also extensive questions about lifestyle, an enquiry enhanced by the fact that in most cases the doctor is in the home of the patient. These doctors are also at the forefront of a well-funded government health education effort.

While Cuba’s situation is far from ideal, it serves as a reminder that efficient health care can be provided at much less cost to the people—when the focus is on primary care and prevention.

 Check out the whole article here