Growing up with the National Health Service (NHS) as an accessible service throughout my life, I didn't consider what it is like not to have it as I was growing up. I was aware that the US has a completely private system which most citizens try to use health insurance to cover the costs as my older half-sister moved there with her American husband when I was young. Admittedly, I didn't take that much of an interest in the developing research and treatments of various conditions, but I did get the impression that if you needed surgery or another life-changing procedure, America had much more advanced facilities and ground-breaking procedures available. Therefore, I always assumed that if something awful happened to me, I would want to try to find a way to be treated over there.
Fast forward to sustaining a brain injury; yes, that "something awful" did, unfortunately, happen to me. So how come I didn't jump on a plane and check myself into a medical facility in the US, paying for their doctors in white coats (do they really all wear those or did I just watch too much "ER"?) to put me back together again? I was awarded compensation money to help me with rehab and long-term loss of income, so I had funds to use as I saw fit. The short answer is; I no longer believe that the US is automatically superior when it comes to medical care.
The different cultures within our healthcare systems
Here in the UK, we are used to hearing how the NHS is so cash strapped. Each Healthcare Trust has to make difficult decisions about what treatments they can afford to offer patients if the drugs and/or produces are especially expensive. They must consider what the financial cost means and what they then have available for all the other patients they still need to support. I know the media like to portray the people charged with making these decisions as cold, number-crunching accountants, but I still believe there must be times that their heads and hearts must be at war. Either way, this leaves the humble public with the impression that we might not be getting the crème de la crème of what the world's medics can offer us.
So, is it better to have a system that relies on medical insurance instead? I talk to many brain injury survivors based in the US, and there seem to be three distinct camps of thought.
The system is brilliant, and they are thankful that they are in a country that can offer such a good range of services.
There is a feeling of distrust as the insurance company is the paying client and therefore has a large influence on the patient's care. In many cases, this can leave the patient feeling that they are not getting the best treatment because the insurance company will not foot the bill. This can also mean that a patient may get the procedure, but the aftercare is only available up to a particular dollar amount instead of how long the individual needs it. This can spell disaster for patients in the long term as the recovery process can be disrupted as a result.
Patients can become suspicious of their medical team and get the impression that they are being booked in for unnecessary treatments just so the medical business can bill the insurance company, increasing their profits.
To me, that sounds even more complicated than the financial stressors that we worry about over here. Personally, I don't want to be in the position of having to second guess if the suggested treatment is being offered with an ulterior motive in mind. I want to trust my doctor to go to the board of directors with my treatment plan because they believe it is the best course of action for me. Yes, the board may decline it as they consider the impact on other areas of the Trust, but I want to believe my doctor is fighting my corner, not the sales team.
Research into future treatments for brain injury is still happening in the UK
The US does a lot of research in the medical field, but the UK, although much smaller, is still responsible for important findings. In fact, the University of Birmingham has announced that they have secured funding to investigate whether drugs can help the recovery process of a secondary brain injury. Professor Nicholas Barnes, of the University of Birmingham's School of Pharmacy, said, "Whilst it would be difficult for a drug to reduce the consequences of the initial injury, the dead and dying brain tissue associated with the initial trauma can cause neuro-inflammation which spreads to surrounding brain tissue that may be damaged but not irreversibly.
"However, the added stress of neuro-inflammation to this adjacent brain tissue expands the volume of brain damage. This secondary, non-mechanical, brain damage begins over hours to days after the initial trauma and is hence may be considered amenable to potential pharmacological treatment with drugs." You can read the full article here.
What that could mean for brain injury survivors is a faster and more successful recovery if these drugs do prove to help in this way. The research is scheduled to take place over the next three years, but even if the findings are positive, it could be a number of years before any new drugs and treatments start being used. However, I find it encouraging that Britain is not sitting on her laurels and pushing for a brighter future for brain injury survivors. Therefore, I still believe in our healthcare system here. If I do ever need treatment that the NHS cannot provide, I have no reason to doubt that our own private sector can't bridge the gap for me. So, whilst I do hope to visit the USA again someday, I have no plans to try out their medical facilities just yet.
After a serious injury, did you seek medical treatment abroad? Let us know of your experience by leaving a comment below!
Nothing in this blog should be taken as providing medical advice or recommendations. Please always consult your doctor for medical advice and before taking any medication or supplement. Any opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not CFG Law Limited.