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Denver 2003 Friday, 14 February, 2003, 03:22 GMT
US healthcare in 'danger of collapse'
Bloom, ProPix
Bloom: Simple steps come first
(Image by ProPix)

Amos, BBC

The US healthcare system is "in imminent danger of collapse" and needs a radical overhaul.

The statement comes from Dr Floyd Bloom, the current president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is holding its annual meeting in Denver.

The neuroscientist-physician used his conference address to highlight the healthcare "crisis" now facing the country that spends more on medicine than any other nation on Earth.

The system is not working and we need to find ways to repair it

Dr Floyd Bloom
He said the system was increasingly failing patients and medical staff, and warned its inherent weaknesses would become all too evident were America to come under attack from terror groups using chemical or biological agents.

"The threat of war and the imposition of mass casualties from any new acts of terrorism could prove calamitous for the US medical community's ability to care for the ill," he said.

And Dr Bloom, the first medically trained president to lead the world's largest general scientific society in 16 years, said it was no use thinking hi-tech discoveries made from the human genome would ease some of the pressures on the system.

The benefits from the "post-genomic revolution" had been over-anticipated and when they did eventually arrive were likely to be very expensive, he said.

'Demoralised system'

Dr Bloom called for the establishment of a national commission to redraw the American health system.

The AAAS, with its status, could help bring all the interested parties together, he believed.

For too long, Dr Bloom argued, US Government administrations had merely tinkered at the edges when what was really required was root and branch reform.

"The costs of medications are exceeding the ability of employers to pay for them, patients are dissatisfied with their care, physicians are demoralised about the practice of medicine because of the high rates of malpractice insurance, and the numbers of nurses we can recruit to the profession is diminishing.

"The system is not working and we need to find ways to repair it," he told the BBC.

Preventive medicine also had to be at the core of the new vision - not hi-tech surgical procedures and drugs.

"Socio-economic status has important proclivities for a host of illnesses in our country - including osteoarthritis, or asthma or other kinds of pulmonary illnesses.

"While we can't declare poverty to be gone, we can recognise what the factors are and try to apply what we have today instead of waiting for molecular discoveries to tell us how we might tailor drugs at some point in the future."

'Quick wins'

This was one of his major themes: the simple and the easy should come first - and this was true globally, he said.

"The human genome is, in my view, an over-anticipated breakthrough; that there are considerable amounts of science that can be done now to bear upon the World Health Organization's top 10 problems that will not benefit from post-genomic medicine."

He highlighted three personal quick wins:

  • The widespread use of rice modified to enhance its iron content - to tackle anaemia.

  • More money to be spent on the infrastructure that provides clean water to communities that are currently at risk from water-borne diseases.

  • The development of more efficient ways to deliver surplus food grown in the US to areas of the world blighted by malnutrition.

    The AAAS annual meeting is the world's largest interdisciplinary scientific gathering, and is expected to draw more than 6,000 individuals from all over the globe to Denver, Colorado, in the next few days.

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    The BBC's Richard Black
    "Doctor Bloom's comments echo the views of other august scientific bodies"
    Denver, BBC

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    27 Jan 03 | Americas
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