Shattuck Lecture: How To Achieve a Better Health Care System

When you face a tough situation and need some potential answers, you seek  an expert. That’s what the MMS Committee on Publications did when choosing its speaker for the 2011 Shattuck Lecture.

Harvey Fineberg, M.D., President of the Institute of Medicine, delivered the Shattuck Lecture Friday and gave his answer to what perhaps is one of the most important and toughest questions facing the nation: How do we build a successful and sustainable health care system?

Saying our system is “neither successful as it should be, nor sustainable as it could be,” Dr. Fineberg painted a grim picture of current U.S. health care: last among developed nations in performance but first in health care costs. The situation, he said, is made all the more urgent by a booming Federal budget deficit that is only making the  problem worse.  “Health costs are the biggest part of the federal dilemma,” he told 200 MMS delegates attending the lecture as part of the 2011 MMS Annual Meeting in Waltham.

In a one-hour presentation characterized by precision and clarity, he met the issue head on, recommending a strategic approach and specific strategies for success and sustainability.

His approach: tackle the totality of the problem, including costs and performance; accelerate the pace of change, as the financial situation makes it urgent; and take different reinforcing actions simultaneously, as the nation needs to try many different things to alter the system.

Among the 15 ideas he offered to achieve a successful and sustainable health care system: using evidence more effectively in decisions by physicians and patients; redesigning care to reduce avoidable errors; giving providers and patients incentive to increase value and improve health; streamlining administrative functions such as claims and billing; and reforming medical liability.

The Institute of Medicine, established in 1970 and part of the National Academy of Sciences, serves as adviser to the nation to improve health. With health costs consuming ever larger portions of federal, state, and municipal budgets, with businesses and individuals reeling from rising premiums, and with an uncertain landscape for health care reform, this physician provides a welcome voice in the health reform debate.

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