Physicians' Perspectives on Caring for Patients in the United States, Canada, and West Germany

Robert J. Blendon, Karen Donelan, Robert Leitman, Arnold Epstein, Joel C. Cantor, Alan B. Cohen, Ian Morrison, Thomas Moloney, Christian Koeck, Samuel W. Levitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Background: The United States is considering enacting a national health plan and global health care budget similar to those in other countries. There are few data on the effects of such policies on physicians and patients. Methods: We conducted a telephone survey of 602 physicians in the United States, 507 physicians in Canada, and 519 physicians in the former West Germany from February through May 1991; the response rates were 44 percent, 49 percent, and 41 percent, respectively. Among other topics, the questionnaire included measures of satisfaction with the health care system and with medical practice. Results: In the United States, 23 percent of the physicians surveyed thought the health care system worked well, as compared with 33 percent in Canada and 48 percent in West Germany. Seventy-three percent of U.S. physicians reported that patients' inability to afford necessary treatment was a serious problem, as compared with 25 percent in Canada and 15 percent in West Germany. Seventy-seven percent of West German physicians, 56 percent of Canadian physicians, and 54 percent of U.S. physicians said the shortage of competent nurses was a serious problem. In Canada, 50 percent of the respondents cited the lack of well-equipped medical facilities as a problem, as compared with 14 percent in the United States and 20 percent in West Germany. Conclusions: Programs of universal coverage and cost containment necessitate important trade-offs. In Canada and West Germany, physicians do not report serious problems of access to care for the poor and uninsured. In the United States, doctors do not face the limited access to sophisticated forms of medical technology that was reported in Canada or the diminished quality of some services reported in West Germany., There has recently been a resurgence of interest in reforming the health care system in the United States. Policy makers have been looking to the national health systems and cost-containment mechanisms in other industrialized nations, particularly Canada and the former West Germany, as models for reform14. Detailed descriptions of the Canadian and German systems have been published in the past several years510. One element that has been missing from this examination is an assessment by practicing physicians of how well their health care systems function. Physicians are in a unique position to make this assessment because…

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1011-1016
Number of pages6
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 8 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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