Almost a decade ago, I co-chaired the Presidential Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry.
We concluded that the president should lead the nation in accepting a unifying statement of purpose for the healthcare system. We suggested: The purpose of the healthcare system must be to continuously reduce the impact and burden of illness, injury and disability, and to improve the health and functioning of the people of the United States.
I have not changed my mind about the need for federal and in particular presidential leadership. We have our challenges:
While millions of Americans receive high-quality care every dayin many ways, the best care in the worldfar too many Americans receive care that is of poor quality.
Quality problems include the overuse of services, the under-use of services and the misuse of services. For example, by just giving the right heart drugbeta blockersto patients after they suffer a heart attack, we could prevent thousands of deaths a year from just one disease.
Total yearly hospital costs from mistakes in drug administration and preventable adverse drug events alone amount to billions.
All told, the toll in human lives amounts to thousands of Americans dying each year as a result of avoidable errors in healthcare.
Other industries demand much better outcomes and fewer errors. As W. Edwards Deming once pointed out, If we had to live with 99.9% (success rate), we would have: two unsafe plane landings per day at OHare, 16,000 pieces of lost mail every hour, (and) 32,000 bank checks deducted from the wrong bank account every hour. Yet in healthcare, the failure rate is substantially higher.
Poor quality healthcare has tremendous social and economic consequences for our countrylost wages, reduced productivity, higher legal expenses and lower confidence in the system. We spend almost $2 trillion on healthcare and, as the Institute of Medicine has recently pointed out, less than 0.1% of that goes to assessing the comparative effectiveness of available interventions.
Though we are at the dawn of personalized medicine, we have almost no capacity to absorb all the new informationstudies, drugs, new procedures. Our healthcare professionals are overwhelmed.
We quickly embrace information technology as a panacea for what ails our system. However, we know that IT systems are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. The design of a successful information system must be driven by the needs of an organization for effective management, operations and support services. In healthcare, managers need information that helps to assure high-quality and cost-effective healthcare. Clinicians need good information to make treatment decisions. Managers of support services need data to forecast personal needs and monitor their budgets. Smooth-running healthcare systems need all these different types of information to work together so that resources are allocated effectively and clinical services are organized around patient needs.
Evidence-based practice is the foundation of a quality healthcare system, and without research on healthcare quality, we cannot have evidence-based practice.
The federal government must significantly expand its financial commitment to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
By supporting the development of these measures and tools, the government can keep them in the public domain, raise the floor and level the playing field on which health plans, hospitals and providers compete to improve quality.
By funding research and publishing its results, we encourage the sharing of best practices, fostering collaboration in a system of competition. By translating research into the practice of our federal healthcare programs, we can serve as leaders in a marketplace that competes on quality rather than solely on cost.
Our aims for our patients ought to be straightforward: Reduce the number of errors committed in the system; eliminate overuse of services while addressing the under-use of services in rural communities and elsewhere; and increase patient participation in their care.
Government cant do these things alone.