Tuesday, February 5, 2013

One reason why the U.S. ranks poorly in infant mortality rates

As the report's authors point out, the U.S. has the highest infant-mortality rate among high-income countries. Again, this isn't a good indicator of the quality of the American health-care system. The elevated U.S. rate is a function of both the technological advancement of American hospitals and discrepancies in how different countries define a live birth.

Doctors in the U.S. are much more aggressive than foreign counterparts about trying to save premature babies. Thousands of babies that would have been declared stillborn in other countries and never given a chance at life are saved in the U.S. As a result, the percentage of preterm births in America is exceptionally high—65% higher than in Britain, and about double the rates in Finland and Greece.

Unfortunately, some of the premature babies that American hospitals try to save don't make it. Their deaths inflate the overall infant mortality rate.
--Sally Pipes, WSJ, on the difficulty of cross-country health comparisons. I'd heard about this stillbirth/infant mortality definitional problem from a health economist a few months ago. It's apparently a well-known data issue among those who seriously research this issue, and it's not an easy one to fix.