Optimism Bloomed at The Economist Health Care Forum

October 1, 2014
William Balfour

By Isabelle Blankmeyer, Product Manager, Functional and Clinical Performance Management.

In September, The Economist gathered an engaging and diverse array of leaders from provider, payor, consumer, academic, policy, and technology to explore the global state of flux in healthcare and their optimism for the future shined.

In the opening panel, Charles Sorenson, MD, President and Chief Executive of Intermountain Healthcare, juxtaposed the Economist’s mission statement against the current state of healthcare: Whereas the Economist seeks to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress,” Sorenson noted that the healthcare industry often embraces “obtrusive ignorance” instead.

He encouraged diligence in combating that obtrusive ignorance to change the value proposition in the healthcare industry. The message resonated throughout the conference, with panel after panel emphasizing the need for a new trajectory beyond our traditional healthcare structure and seeing patients as more than diseases. Two mechanisms stood out: Patient engagement in care and holistic treatment of patients.

Jim Greiner, president of iTriage, a mobile research app that allows individuals to manage their personal health, asserted, “Everyone in this room is part of the movement to democratize healthcare” and he emphasized the importance of health education and increased access to care in that pursuit.

Price and quality transparency will play deeply into the consumer movement to democratize healthcare. While the costs behind healthcare are somewhat misunderstood by the general population, the amount of attention garnered by Elisabeth Rosenthal’s “Paying Till It Hurts” series on The New York Times showcases the level of public anxiety generated by healthcare’s pricing anomalies. Insurance payments used to be a black box for many, but access through high deductible health plans has increased consumer interest in the financial transactions, and consumers are starting to question the norms. Dr. Don Bialek, CMO of iVantage, in his debate with Jonathan Bush, founder of athenahealth, admitted that even he, as a highly informed healthcare consumer, doesn’t know what his insurance covers. He questioned whether or not our insurance companies know what they cover.

Also trending was the concept of holistic treatments of patients. As Health Care Service Corporation senior vice-president and CMO Stephen Ondra asserted, “This is healthcare. This isn’t simply price. This isn’t a commodity. This is our lives.” He asserted that the need for patient education regarding healthcare quality but also alluded to a shift in how our “sick care” system can emerge as a functioning provider of health and wellness. Humana’s Chief Executive Bruce Broussard affirmed, “If doctors look holistically — instead of “how can I treat this disease?’ — costs will be reduced.”

Boston Children’s Hospital CEO Sandra Fenwick provided inspiring examples of holistic care programs implemented at BCH to improve patients’ health. One reduced ER visits for children with frequent asthma attacks by 60% and IP admissions by 80% by evaluating their home environments, going as far as replacing mattresses and offering pest and rodent control.

While we now have greater access to care, our economy won’t mimic efficiencies from universal healthcare coverage in Britain and Israel. Still, we will slowly but surely evolve to a better structure if the optimism expressed during the Healthcare Forum remains. Decades of consumer education about the risks of smoking finally shifted the tides enough that CVS weighed its $4B in annual tobacco revenue against the benefits of promoting itself as a consumer health partner and chose health.

As Don Bialek observed in his closing statements, “It will be an evolution, not a revolution.”

 

 

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