Time to end the embargo of Cuba. We could learn a lot about patient-centered preventive health care. And they could benefit greatly from internet access. - gwc
Edward W. Campion, M.D., and Stephen Morrissey, Ph.D.
N Engl J Med 2013; 368:297-299 January 24, 2013DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1215226
For a visitor from the United States, Cuba is disorienting. American cars are everywhere, but they all date from the 1950s at the latest. Our bank cards, credit cards, and smartphones don't work. Internet access is virtually nonexistent. And the Cuban health care system also seems unreal. There are too many doctors. Everybody has a family physician. Everything is free, totally free — and not after prior approval or some copay. The whole system seems turned upside down. It is tightly organized, and the first priority is prevention. Although Cuba has limited economic resources, its health care system has solved some problems that ours has not yet managed to address.1,2Family physicians, along with their nurses and other health workers, are responsible for delivering primary care and preventive services to their panel of patients — about 1000 patients per physician in urban areas. All care delivery is organized at the local level, and the patients and their caregivers generally live in the same community. The medical records in cardboard folders are simple and handwritten, not unlike those we used in the United States 50 years ago. But the system is surprisingly information-rich and focused on population health.
All patients are categorized according to level of health risk, from I to IV. Smokers, for example, are in risk category II, and patients with stable, chronic lung disease are in category III. The community clinics report regularly to the district on how many patients they have in each risk category and on the number of patients with conditions such as hypertension (well controlled or not), diabetes, and asthma, as well as immunization status, time since last Pap smear, and pregnancies necessitating prenatal care.
Every patient is visited at home once a year, and those with chronic conditions receive visits more frequently. When necessary, patients can be referred to a district polyclinic for specialty evaluation, but they return to the community team for ongoing treatment. For example, the team is responsible for seeing that a patient with tuberculosis follows the assigned antimicrobial regimen and gets sputum checks. House calls and discussions with family members are common tactics for addressing problems with compliance or follow-up and even for failure to protect against unwanted pregnancy. In an effort to control mosquito-borne infections such as dengue, the local health team goes into homes to conduct inspections and teach people about getting rid of standing water, for example.
This highly structured, prevention-oriented system has produced positive results. Vaccination rates in Cuba are among the highest in the world. The life expectancy of 78 years from birth is virtually identical to that in the United States. The infant mortality rate in Cuba has fallen from more than 80 per 1000 live births in the 1950s to less than 5 per 1000 — lower than the U.S. rate, although the maternal mortality rate remains well above those in developed countries and is in the middle of the range for Caribbean countries.3,4 Without doubt, the improved health outcomes are largely the result of improvements in nutrition and education, which address the social determinants of health. Cuba's literacy rate is 99%, and health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum.