A team of Israeli physicians and nurses visited Pittsburgh this week. They toured area hospitals met with health care providers and took in a Penguins game.
And oh, they also shared information on how health care is provided in the Jewish state as opposed to the United States.
The visit reciprocated one that U.S. providers, including some from Pittsburgh, made to Israel earlier this year for the same purpose. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation sponsored both trips.
The cost of health care per individual is considerably lower in Israel than the United States, while the medical procedures employed there mirror those here, resulting in a longer average life expectancy at birth for Israelis than Americans (80.73 years compared to 78.11, according to the CIA World Factbook). Broken down, the life expectancy for men is 77.4 years in Israel compared to 75.2 in the United States. For women, it’s 81.6 years in Israel, 80.4 years in the United States.
“How could we think there isn’t something there to learn?” JHF Chief Executive Officer Karen Wolk Feinstein asked. “This was meant to introduce Clalit to some of the best and the brightest we have in Pittsburgh.”
Clalit Health Services is the largest of the five health plans in Israel, known there as sick plans. All five members of the Israeli team — three physicians, two chief nurses — were represented.
Indeed, there are things the Israelis can learn, too, said Dr. Ran D. Balicer, director of health policy research and planning for Clalit.
Specifically, Balicer said he was impressed with the methods Pittsburgh hospitals were using to reduce the risk of infection during procedures, like the insertion of a catheter.
“We haven’t gotten to that level of infection [control] that we’ve seen here,” he said.
He also noted some “low-tech” procedures used here to keep individuals out of hospitals, such as using emergency medical technicians to engage patients in the home, explaining the proper use of medication. He suggested a similar procedure could be used in Israel, but with welfare workers instead of EMTs.
The exchange of Israeli and American providers is part of collaborative effort between the JHF and the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute — an Israel-based think tank — to find new and better ways to deliver health care services.
In 1995, Israel passed a national health care law that guaranteed medical coverage to 100 percent of its citizens. Israelis must apply to one of five sick plans, which are required to accept them.
Once in, though, all Israelis have access to the same “basket” of services, which are reviewed and approved by a national health panel that meets once a year. The sick plans compete by how well they provide the services to attract more clients.
“You just have to give more efficient services, and they’ll come,” Balicer said.
He noted some weaknesses in the Israeli system, such as the lack of dental and optical care, although minors are provided dental care until they are 18 years old.
The basket of services is supported by a national health tax. Other drugs and procedures not in the basket are available to Israelis who can afford them.
Clalit owns 14 hospitals in Israel — the only plan to own its own hospitals — which provide care to 3.85 million people.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com or at 412-687-1005.)