In his mockumentary, “Sicko,” Michael Moore portrayed Great Britain’s government-funded National Health Service as a system to be admired and emulated in the United States. His extreme views didn’t take into consideration that British health providers might have something to learn from the way things are done on this side of the Atlantic.
But that’s just what 20 doctors and nurses from northwest England came to do recently in Washington.
The British contingent, part of a leadership academy with the National Health Service of Northwest England, toured the Kaiser Permanente Total Health Clinic, starting with an explanation of the company's inception in 1945. Led by the clinic's medical director, Ted Eytan, MD, MS, they landed in front of a video depicting Kaiser's vision for its future, complete with smartphone programs that allow patients to perform "virtual triage" and treat their malady without entering a clinic.
Eytan led the clinicians through a display of new technology, from a handheld, portable ultrasound to a webcam-like system for consulting doctors remotely. They stopped in between the show-and-tell to talk about the advantages of connecting patients to their doctors and nurses through regular e-mail and phone conversations.
According to Dr. Robert Stead, a pulmonologist based in East Cheshire, England, the American system seems more physician-led, which could also mean higher costs. He gave the example of how the National Health Service gave midwives more autonomy and responsibility over childbirth, rather than obstetricians.
And the idea of multiple government programs catering to different populations -- veterans, elderly, and poor -- was quite literally a foreign concept to a group raised on the universal health system.
But Dr. James Catania, a physician and medical director in Stockport, a city near Manchester, England, said the system has its own shortcomings. General practitioners only have 10 minutes to spend with their patients, discouraging them from asking more questions or spending time talking to specialists. And while the English are happy to have universal healthcare, he said they are "frustrated with the pathways" to access that care.