Summit Illuminates Health Care Transformation

At this year's American Hospital Association Leadership Summit, I saw an impressive parade of luminaries shed light on many pressing challenges faced by the health care industry.

Chesley B. Sullenberger, the pilot who landed ill-fated USAirways flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River, advised us that the routinized, safety checklists that made his heroics possible have an important place in health care. Contrary to current complaints, such lists would not rob doctors of their autonomy. Instead, checklists would ensure best practices and allow doctors to excel, while guarding patient safety.

Al Gore, former vice president of the U.S., spoke of sustainability—a challenge faced not only in the economics surrounding our consumption of Earth's resources, but also in the delivery of health care.

Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, reminded us of the role of free market forces in health care. He warned that we may need to "make people decide between taking grandma off life support and paying for their kid's college education."

Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary, reminded us of the direct, positive correlation between the percentage of women in top leadership roles and achievement of success. Although health care provides many opportunities for women, leadership roles continue to be scarce.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, warned of the enormous competitive pressure coming from China and India. He said health care providers will need to deliver very high quality at a much lower cost or face the prospect of bankruptcy.

Ian Morrison, health care futurist, reiterated that health care reform is moving our industry from focusing on volume to creating value. Glenn Steele, Jr., President & CEO, Geisinger Health System, and his leadership team discussed how they develop programs that simultaneously improve care and provide increased value. They prove that transformation is already in progress.

Many speakers explored approaches to the complexity of implementing changes mandated by new health care reform legislation, as well as the challenges of improving outcomes while squeezing out costs. The convergence of so many experts and accomplished professionals offered enlightenment and some rays of hope in the storm.

— Tom DeSanto

Image:  Tom DeSanto

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