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Adequate health care is fundamental to the health of a nation.  Outreach, outpatient, inpatient, and extended care, as well as the community at large are five components that make up the health care system in the USA.  The outreach component is comprised of physicians with private practices, as well as community health clinics, mental health agencies, and physician group practices.  Hospitals have also become a part of the outreach component through the educational and support services they provide to the community.  The outpatient component of health care includes traditional hospitals, emergency rooms, and ambulance squads.  The inpatient component is the most costly of all five components, and is measured by the number of hospital beds.  Common hospitals, government hospitals, and specialty hospitals all feature inpatient facilities.  The extended component of the health care system includes home health care and hospice programs, skilled nursing facilities (SNF), intermediate care facilities (ICF), rehabilitation hospitals, and assisted living facilities.  The community at large can be divided into consumers, health personnel, and the federal government.

Health care personnel work in various health fields and range widely in their training and job skills.  They include, but are not limited to, physicians, dentists, assistants, nurses, specialists, and administrative workers.  Optometrists, chiropractors, psychologists, occupational therapists, registered nurses, art and music therapists, electroencephalographic (EEG) technicians, pharmacists, and home health aides are just a small example of the many careers available in the growing health care industry.

In recent years, the United States government has enacted and implemented the Affordable Care Act, which is intended to provide Americans with better health security by means of comprehensive health insurance reforms.  This legislation strives to expand health insurance coverage, hold insurance companies more accountable for their decisions, reduce health care costs, provide more health care options, and enhance health care quality for the American people.

health care collage Partially because of the Affordable Care Act, many factors of the health care system are undergoing tremendous change.  As we move into the future, the focus on individual hospitals is shifting to multi-hospital and integrated delivery systems (IDS), and many surgeries are now performed on an outpatient basis, providing cost savings to health care providers and insurance companies alike.  In addition, the fastest growing group of Americans is 65 and older, prioritizing the need for growth of long-term and continuing care facilities.

In addition to mainstream health care and medical treatment approaches, many Americans utilize alternative and complementary medicine treatment modalities whose effectiveness has not been established using scientific methods.  Some of these products and techniques may be effective in certain situations, but some of them have also been proven ineffective or even harmful.

As our population continues to expand and shift, new health and medical services will be needed, and more efficient means of providing care will become imperative.  Furthermore, government budget constraints and the expansion of health management organizations (HMOs) will pressure health care providers to control costs more carefully.

For more information about health and medicine, visit the Health Information page on the National Institutes of Health website, and read the book Introduction to the Health Professions.

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