Health Care Leaders Address Elections, Economy, and “Value Medicine”

About 10 years ago, Craig E. Samitt, M.D., the president and CEO of Dean Clinic in Madison, Wisc., made a decision.

Instead of focusing on “heads in beds” like so many health systems, his system would focus on what he now terms as “Value Medicine.”

“Let the rest of the industry focus on volume. We’re focusing on value,” Dr. Samitt recounted on Thursday during his address at the State of the State’s Health Care Forum, hosted by the Massachusetts Medical Society.

The leadership forum, now in its 13th year, also featured remarks by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Harvard School of Public Health Associate Dean Robert J. Blendon, and economist Robert J. Shapiro, who served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs during the Clinton Administration.

He described the hard-won lessons learned by his physician-owned and governed health system.  Namely,  ACOs must be a team of equals, with hospitals, physicians, and insurers all learning to partner, not compete with each other.

“Everyone has to integrate around value. All health care systems that succeed in the future will focus on teamwork,” Dr. Samitt said.

One of the most important changes was Dean’s investment in primary care. Instead of insisting that Dean PCPs see a huge volume of patients, said Dr. Samitt, “we turned the treadmill off” to instead focus on care coordination.

The system has also looked for ways to serve patients virtually and is making data on its physicians – including metrics on patient satisfaction – unblinded so that Dean’s doctors can see how they compare to their peers.  Soon those metrics will be tied to financial incentives, Dr. Samitt said.

In a set of remarks titled, “The Implications of the 2012 Elections for U.S. Health Reform,” Blendon spoke about a deeply divided national electorate, where health care currently ranks second in voter concerns.  The country is almost evenly split on federal health reform, but 52 percent want some, or all, of the ACA repealed.

Shapiro gave the forum’s final talk, titled “Healthcare and its Impact on the Economy.”

He discussed how rapid increases in health costs have contributed to slowing U.S. job and income growth, compared to European nations and Japan, where government cost controls are in place.  He predicted that if unchecked, U.S. health care costs could consume an estimated 30 percent of the average family’s income.

– Erica Noonan

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