Overview of U.S. Health System

There is no national health service, as such, in the United States. Most physicians in the country have traditionally been in some form of private practice, whether seeing patients in their own offices, clinics, medical centers, or another type of facility and regardless of the patients' income. Doctors are usually compensated by such state and federally supported agencies as Medicaid (for treating the poor) and Medicare (for treating the elderly); not all doctors, however accept poor patients. There are also some state-supported clinics and hospitals where the poor and elderly may receive free or low-cost treatment, and some doctors devote a small percentage of their time to treatment of the indigent. Veterans may receive free treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals, and the federal government through its Indian Health Service provides medical services to American Indians and Alaskan natives, sometimes using trained auxiliaries for first-contact care.

In the rural United States first-contact care is likely to come from a generalist. The middle- and upper-income groups living in urban areas, however, have access to a larger number of primary medical care options. Children are often taken to pediatricians, who may oversee the child's health needs until adulthood. Adults frequently make their initial contact with an internist, whose field is mainly that of medical (as opposed to surgical) illnesses; the internist often becomes the family physician. Other adults choose to go directly to physicians with narrower specialties, including dermatologists, allergists, gynecologists, orthopedists, and ophthalmologists.

Patients in the United States may also choose to be treated by doctors of osteopathy. These doctors are fully qualified, but they make up only a small percentage of the country's physicians. They may also branch off into specialties, but general practice is much more common in their group than among M.D.'s.

It used to be more common in the United States for physicians providing primary care to work independently, providing their own equipment and paying their own ancillary staff. In smaller cities they mostly had full hospital privileges, but in larger cities these privileges were more likely to be restricted. Physicians, often sharing the same specialties, are increasingly entering into group associations, where the expenses of office space, staff, and equipment may be shared; such associations may work out of suites of offices, clinics, or medical centers. The increasing competition and risks of private practice have caused many physicians to join Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO's), which provide comprehensive medical care and hospital care on a prepaid basis. The cost savings to patients are considerable, but they must use only the HMO doctors and facilities. HMO's stress preventive medicine and out-patient treatment as opposed to hospitalization as a  means of reducing costs, a policy that has caused an increased umber of empty hospital beds in the United States.

While the  number of doctors per 100,000 population in the United States has been steadily increasing, there has been a trend among physicians toward the use of trained medical personnel to handle some of the basic services normally performed by the doctor. So-called physician extender services are commonly divided into nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, both of whom provide similar ancillary services for the general practitioner or specialist. Such personnel do not replace the doctor. Almost all American physicians have systems for taking each other's calls when they become unavailable. House call in the United States, as in other countries, have become exceedingly rare.

Reading Exercise take from Encyclopedia Britannica