At the edge of a cliff, health care must evolve quickly

February 10, 2012, Northeastern University
Dr. Donald Berwick (right), the country’s former Medicare and Medicaid administrator, speaks with Northeastern University student Kayla DeVincentis prior to his lecture Tuesday, part of the Healthcare Improvement Leadership Seminar Series. Credit: Mary Knox Merrill.

To reverse America’s unsustainable health-care costs, Congress must adopt more refined, nimble strategies and get tough in the face of those pushing to keep the status quo, according to Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a leader in the fight to improve medical care and wellness in the United States.

“Policymakers are dealing with health care with very thick mittens on, so we need new leaders with new ideas, skills and voices,” Berwick said on Tuesday at the quarterly Healthcare Improvement Leadership Seminar Series held in Blackman Auditorium. The event was sponsored by Northeastern’s Healthcare Systems Engineering Program.

Berwick, the country’s former Medicare and Medicaid administrator, said that when Congress does act, it often does so at the expense of the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable.

“It is inevitable, in my view, that the safety net for the poor will be under siege,” he said. “The poor don’t vote and they don’t have lobbyists, so they don’t have a say in this.”

To prevent changes that hurt rather than improve health care in America, students and professionals in the fields of health care and systems engineering need to speak out and offer new, bold and innovative solutions, he said.

“All I can say is that your voices help. In Washington, the squeaky wheels get the grease — and we need a lot of new wheels.”

Berwick’s lecture, delivered to a wide audience of students and professionals in health and engineering fields from across the Boston area, stressed the need for broad changes in health care to improve six areas of the health-care field: safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, timeliness, efficiency and equity. President Obama’s signature health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, helps to accomplish those goals, he said, by creating new tools to provide better care in those areas.

“We’re at a very historic time in the progress of health care in our nation,” Berwick said. “We’re on the path at last — and last among Western democracies — of making health care a human right.”

James Benneyan, a professor of industrial engineering and director of the Healthcare Systems Engineering Program, said Berwick was a powerful speaker about the ability of the local medical community — among the nation’s top regions for health care — to take on a national set of issues.

“This isn’t an engineering program, it’s not a public health problem, it’s not a nursing problem,” Benneyan said. “This is all of our problem, and we’ve got to work together to create broad solutions.”

The Healthcare Systems Engineering Program works to have a broad impact on the nation’s system through research, education and application of engineering improvement sciences.

Explore further: Americans face barriers to health care beyond cost

Related Stories

Americans face barriers to health care beyond cost

August 19, 2011
Cost is only one barrier to getting timely medical care, a new study finds. Just getting to the doctor, making appointments and taking time off from work or other responsibilities are also major hindrances for some people ...

Electronic health records could improve care for type 2 diabetics

January 25, 2012
Use of electronic health records shows promise for improving care and outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes, but still has considerable room for improvement, according to a new study in the journal Health Services Research.

Doctors often overrate how well they speak a second language

October 27, 2011
Communicating with patients who do not speak English is a challenge facing all health care providers. New research shows that even those physicians who say they are fluent in a second language may be overestimating their ...

Preventive care can boost results, shrink price tag of Kansas Medicaid

July 6, 2011
Better access to preventive screenings and care for people with physical disabilities and cognitive limitations could help avert and prevent worsening of many chronic diseases that result in higher costs to the state’s ...

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 10, 2012
Congress is responsible for the current fiasco: fee-for-service. That's a perverse incentive, but a relatively easy bill to write. Result: lots of services, lots of fees. What's needed is fee-for-outcome. That's a much harder bill to write, and there's a financial dis-incentive element in it. I don't see the system changing until after a full collapse.
Feb 10, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.