‘Health for Tomorrow’ summit explores future of U.S. healthcare delivery

“We have a system that needs fixing.”

That comment on the state of the nation’s healthcare system, shared by physician and New York Times correspondent and senior writer Elisabeth Rosenthal, served as the springboard for a high-level summit on the future of health care in the United States. The event drew a who’s who of nationally known health experts, scientists and government officials.

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Rosenthal, author of a yearlong special series in the Times titled “Paying Till it Hurts,” moderated the event, dubbed the New York Times “Health for Tomorrow” conference. Held in late spring on the campus of the University of California-San Francisco, the summit featured a range of experts, including Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic; Bernard Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente; Diana Dooley, secretary of California’s Health and Human Services agency; and Eric Topol, director and professor of genomics at Scripps Translational Science Institute.

Speakers and panelists at the daylong summit grappled with a host of issues surrounding the nation’s fractured healthcare system, the impact of health reform and possible solutions to the urgent challenges of unsustainable health costs, patient access, rising chronic disease rates and new technologies.

Those challenges are considerable, conference speakers agreed. But along with the hurdles to better, more cost-effective care they explored throughout the day, participants also offered plenty of ideas aimed at putting the nation’s $3 trillion-plus healthcare system on a path to a more sustainable, rational and integrated network of patient-centered care.

Underlying much of the discussion: the need to align health spending more effectively with the goals of improved patient outcomes, healthier behaviors and a reimbursement system that will “change the incentives to wellness,” in Dooley’s words.

“The system of delivery of care and the incentives for that are dramatically changing, and California has embraced that,” Dooley added. “We will have to push the system to create this integration and coordination of care.”

Much of the discussion at the summit revolved around health reform spawned by the Affordable Care Act. “The ACA,” Dooley said, “is changing everything about health care. The theory is that if you have everyone in a system of care, you can manage their care earlier and avoid catastrophic circumstances to a larger degree. But it also creates the opportunity for payment and delivery reform” as the focus by health plan payers and insurers shifts to wellness and disease prevention.

Leading health systems like Cleveland Clinic are helping to drive the revolution in patient-centered wellness programs, disease management and accessible, community-based care, Cosgrove said.

“As a healthcare industry and frankly, as physicians who are going to lead this [change], we have to create a vision of greater health care and what we want it to be, and take the steps that will get us there,” he told an audience of physicians, health plan administrators, insurance experts and other stakeholders. “We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to make a new healthcare delivery system that can be better for everybody. And we have to remember that the reason we’re in health ... is so that we can look after and take care of people.”

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