Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What’s in a name?

Although Shakespeare tells us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, when is comes to the semantics of health reform, is that really the case?

As our nation debates ways to improve the health of the public, what is primarily being discussed is universal health coverage. And this is usually encapsulated under the larger umbrella of health care reform, a term often used to describe the road to universal access to health services. You won’t find a Wikipedia entry for “health reform,” but there is one for “health care reform” and its definition focuses solely on the health care delivery system.

The problem with this situation? Although universal coverage and access to doctors are important, focusing on health care reform — instead of the broader concept of health reform — maintains the current emphasis on treating sickness and overlooks a much more cost-effective solution to improving health: prevention.

Calling it health care reform allows the emphasis to center on the medical care system and treatment of those already ill while failing to acknowledge the decades of research showing the importance of intervening on the social determinants of health and changing where we live, work, learn and play to support healthy behaviors.

So although health care reform has come to be used interchangeably with health reform, it’s essential that as we seek ways to improve health in America we don’t allow the focus to remain on the medical care system. We need to ensure that our leaders understand the importance of a health reform package built around the population-based strategies of public health.

This is a time when parsing words could make a monumental difference.

Share your thoughts on this issue. How important is it to you that our leaders move away from the language of health care reform?

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