Observation Deck

Our Chance to Make a Difference

Mark Thill

You’re reading this in June, but I’m writing it in May. The House of Representatives has passed the American Health Care Act, and now we hear that the Senate has appointed a task force to work in private on that body’s version of the bill. That can’t be good, can it?

We all have our opinions about the Act. I know I do. But regardless of what happens in Congress, I keep coming back to what I believe is the fundamental question that everyone in healthcare – that includes consumers, patients, basically, everybody – has to answer: How do we provide the best care to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost? It’s not just a question for the policymakers; it’s a question for all of us.

The good news is, many creative, compassionate and smart people are coming up with creative strategies to address it. None of these alone can “solve” our healthcare problems, but each one helps.

For example, I read about a collaborative effort between Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Lyft to provide transportation services for those who don’t have access to a car or public transportation. It addresses the issue of accessibility. It’s good medicine and it’s cost-effective, because if we help people get the care they need when they need it, it may result in better outcomes at a lower cost. It’s a hypothesis still to be tested, but it’s worth trying.

I read recently about a “pre-hab” program in Michigan, whereby patients who are scheduled for surgery are guided through a fitness program of sorts prior to their procedure. The hypothesis is, the better conditioned the patient is, the quicker he or she will recover from the surgery and return to his/her life. Again, it’s a hypothesis that merits testing.

We hear much about machine learning and artificial intelligence. Recently, one author speculated on the possibility of software that can “sift” through a patient’s medical records in moments and extract the most important points. So, rather than spending precious time poring through a folder full of illegible notes, the emergency-department physician can quickly learn about the patient in front of him or her, then proceed to address the situation.

We read about health systems that have developed programs to help their communities address violence, poor nutrition and poor oral health – all public health issues. We read about progress being made to avoid hospital-acquired infections. We learn how healthcare systems can, through good inventory control, reduce waste, obsolescence, expiration.

In our April issue, I called it “the good fight.” It really is, and I’m glad we can be part of it. My bet is, you are too.