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Panel: US health care must focus on patient outcomes

April 05, 2011

Currently, the United States pays the most for health care, but in terms of outcomes it ranks near the bottom of the list. This is the result of a system that pays for services, but not for the outcomes of those services.

“People would say we are not getting what we pay for, but I would actually say the U.S. is getting exactly what it pays for,” said Denis Cortese, director of the Healthcare Delivery and Policy Program at Arizona State University. “We do a lot of things, we schedule a lot of tests and services, and we keep the patient sick,” he added.

Cortese was speaking at the forum, “U.S. Health Care: Will Our Kids Be Able to Afford It? Will It Be Any Good?” The forum took place March 31, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and included key leaders discussing the next steps in U.S. health care, namely how to focus on quality and efficiency.

In addition to Cortese, forum panelists included Joseph Antos, the Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy, American Enterprise Institute; Helen Darling, president, National Business Group on Health; and James Weinstein, director, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Dartmouth Medical School. The discussion was moderated by Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University.

Since the passage in Congress of the health care reform bill, which reduces the number of uninsured people in the United States, the question turns to how to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. health care so that the population can afford it and it produces good patient outcomes. The United States spends more than 17 percent of its GDP on health care – nearly twice as much as any other nation – but ranks only 49th in life expectancy, and Americans get the right treatment only 55 percent of the time.

With that in mind, the panel focused on what can be done to improve health care in this country. Most panelists agreed a pay-for-outcomes approach would go a long way to improving the system. This would require greater focus on the patient before that person needs to go to the hospital – and better follow-up after treatment.

“If we can create a health care delivery system that has a focus on patients – on outcomes, safety and service – then we would have a real value system in place,” said Cortese, former president and CEO of Mayo Clinic.

“To do this will require leadership,” he added. “The problem with U.S. health care today is a complete lack of shared vision of what we want from health care. It’s a leadership issue.

“We need leadership to drive the vision across the country and we need leaders who can take the heat and understand that they may not be here in one or two election cycles as a result.”

Skip Derra
Media Relations