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Understanding and Improving the US Healthcare System

In this course, you will learn about the structure, accomplishments, and shortcomings of the US healthcare system, and how those have prompted attempts at health policy and reform. You will also take part in a unique, national group exercise, designed to help you understand questions about the 2010 Affordable Care Act and how you can improve the US healthcare system.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

Health is important to everyone.  For most people, that means that understanding the healthcare system is important.  As a patient or a caregiver for a loved one, your understanding of the system can mean everything from getting the right help, to economic stress in paying medical bills, to medical misadventures and even worse.  And if you’re a healthcare professional (or are in training or want to be a healthcare professional someday), understanding the system is a critical – but often under-developed – part of optimizing the help you can provide your community.


Despite this importance, confident understanding of the US healthcare system is alarmingly rare.  This course is designed to change that – by helping students understand the core structure and accomplishments of the system, the recurring shortcomings, and attempted remedies through policy reform.  Rather than emphasizing complexity (a focus of many other courses about healthcare policy), the lessons in this course will highlight central themes that learners can take away from the course and apply to their own experiences – and other coursework – with confidence.  Moreover, students who seek more advanced content will have ample opportunity to tailor their learning accordingly.


In addition, through a unique, coursewide group exercise that will serve as a keystone of this course, all learners will have the opportunity to learn how they can improve the US healthcare system.  Whether as individuals, in groups, or as future architects of system reform, students in this course will enjoy a premier opportunity to understand the US healthcare system – and their options for addressing problems in the system – as they never have before.  

This course was co-developed by the course director, Matthew Davis, MD, MAPP, and course producer, Michael Rubyan, MPH.  Davis is a senior faculty member and longtime teacher regarding health policy at the University of Michigan Medical School, School of Public Policy, and School of Public Health.  Rubyan is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Course Syllabus


Recommended Background

No prerequisites required.  All are welcome, as this course will bring principles and challenges of the US healthcare system to learners in an accessible way, and will encourage them to examine their own assumptions and experiences as they learn-through-innovation.  The materials are designed to meet the needs and expectation of learners with a broad array of prior experiences in, and knowledge about, the healthcare system.  

Suggested Readings

A small number of primary source readings from the health policy literature will be posted online for students to read to complement weekly video materials.

Course Format

In general, each week will consist of approximately 60 minutes of didactic material, delivered in 8- to 15-minute video segments comprised of lecture, thought exercises, and rare archival footage.  Students will be expected to view the video materials, which will include segments that can be tailored to students’ particular interests (including advanced learners).  Each week will also include some work outside of video viewing – to include homework assignments focused on reflecting about and sharing thoughts on the US healthcare system, limited readings assigned by the instructor, and self-assessments.


The exception to this time allotment will occur in Weeks 4 and 5, when students will be randomly assigned to groups for purposes of the group exercise.  In Weeks 4 and 5, the students will view instructions about the group exercise and then conduct the exercise by working on the assignment themselves and then sharing their work with others in their groups via the course discussion forums.


Q:  Will a certificate be awarded for this course?

A:  YES – Upon timely completion of two self-assessments (pre-course; mid-course) and the course evaluation at course end, as well as submission of the plans for health benefits design for each student by himself/herself and his/her stakeholder group (Weeks 4 and 5), a student will be eligible to receive a signed Statement of Accomplishment.

Q:  If I have already taken, or plan to take, coursework in health policy elsewhere, is this course still for me?

A:  YES – The goal of this course is to bring learners together from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, which would be unusual for coursework in just about any other setting.  Moreover, the emphasis in this course is on central themes, rather than complexity that is the hallmark of many other courses in health policy.  Furthermore, a major goal of this course is to help you understand how you can improve the system – in other words, to help each student have a personal, practical, take-away lesson, to complement their improved understanding of the system.