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Int J Health Serv. 1989;19(2):181-208.

A review of the evidence concerning the impact of medical measures on recent mortality and morbidity in the United States.

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New England Research Institute, Watertown, MA 02172.


Because it still is widely believed that one deadly disease after another is being eliminated, or diminished, largely because of medical interventions, there is little commitment to social change and even resistance to a reordering of national priorities. In this article we examine the contribution of medical measures to recent mortality changes in coronary heart disease, cancer, and stroke, which together account for two-thirds of total U.S. mortality and consume the vast majority of available resources. Morbidity changes are also examined and found to be not declining in a manner congruent with mortality and, in fact, increasing for some subgroups. Using a combined measure of mortality and morbidity (the probability of a life free of disability), it is demonstrated that although overall life expectancy has increased over several decades, most of this increase is in years of disability. Our late 20th century approach to the emerging AIDS pandemic (the frantic search for a "magic bullet"--either a treatment or a vaccine) belies any suggestion that the arguments and data presented concerning the modest contribution of medical measures are now passé.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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