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Our Vision Forward

Troy Wells, President and CEO, Baptist Health

Now is a Time of Great Opportunity to Transform the Health-Care System

Troy Wells, President and CEO, Baptist HealthAs reforming the health-care system continues to be a hot topic across the country, it is important to recognize that we don’t talk enough about the things that are right about health care in the United States. Physicians, nurses, and health-care professionals provide lifesaving care to patients each day in American hospitals.

It is clear, however, that our health-care system is not sustainable in its present form. The system operates in many ways that lead to some people getting too much care, some people not getting enough care, and all of it costing too much.

I would suggest that the primary goal in health care in 2015 is to redesign the system so it provides higher quality of care – the right care at the right time in the right place – at lower costs.

Achieving this goal means we have to address several challenges.

First, there is the challenge of innovation in clinical care. Work being done in fields such as angiogenesis (the process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels), in diagnostics by companies such as Theranos (a blood-diagnostics company that provides sophisticated test results at lower costs), or the development of “personalized drugs” will continue to impact how we practice medicine and care for patients.

With advancements in clinical technology comes the challenge of sorting out the difference between what adds real value to patients and what just adds cost to the system.

An additional challenge is access to care, which we have debated for just more than 100 years. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party included a provision to create health-care insurance in its party platform. These efforts to expand access to health care continue and are reflected in the expansion of the Medicaid program and the Private Option. With many more people accessing the system, we must find ways to affordably and appropriately provide the right care in the right setting.

There will continue to be challenges to improve the effectiveness of our health-care system and to reduce the cost of care. It seems essential that we avoid across-the-board cuts and instead focus on how to improve the clinical, administrative, and financial systems we use to provide care to people who need it.

Finally, health-care professionals face the challenge of managing an increasing pace of change. It is really no different than in any other industry. Whether it is change in technology, regulation, competition, or incentive, the pace of change is, and will, continue to accelerate.

Despite these challenges, it is an exciting time to be in health care. There are extraordinary opportunities to redesign what we do and how we do it. Opportunities to redesign and improve clinical care will continue in this ever-changing environment.

At Baptist Health and at many leading health-care systems across the country, physicians are leading efforts to ensure patients get appropriate care rather than too much or too little care. The result is better care at lower costs.

Due to changing technology and changing incentives, there are vast opportunities to better coordinate care across different organizations. Historically, physician offices, hospitals, nursing homes, and the myriad of other health-care providers have operated independently. The result left patients trying to make sense of a confusing system. We have to better manage care across a variety of settings to be sure patients get the care they need.

We have the opportunity to design new payment arrangements that encourage physicians and other health professionals to focus on value and keeping people well rather than the number of procedures, tests, or services they perform. Creating the right incentives and financial arrangements are critical to aligning providers to best serve patients.

Finally, there has never been a greater opportunity for health-care providers to invest in wellness and prevention. In the past, the focus in health care has been on acute disease and the hospital. Health systems must lead the way in preventing chronic disease, investing in more primary care, and partnering with other health-care providers and community members to improve the health of our communities.

Debates about quality, access, and cost of health care will continue. What is exciting to me is the opportunity to redesign what we do to provide a higher quality of care and service to more people.

A version of this column appears in the March issue of Arkansas Money & Politics magazine.

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