Wachter’s World

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Democrats and Republicans have trumpeted that unprecedented changes in the healthcare system are on the way, but the dean of HM cautions that significant change is still years away.

“The reform bill, to my mind, mostly kicked the hard decision for cost, quality, and safety down the road,” said Bob Wachter, MD, MHM, chief of the hospitalist division, professor, and associate chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. “All of these issues have been raised, though.”

Dr. Wachter, former SHM president, author of the blog Wachter’s World (www.wachters world.com), and recently named the 10th-most-powerful physician executive in the nation by Modern Healthcare, used his annual HM10 address to paint a cautiously optimistic picture of HM playing a leading role in quality, safety, and innovation in the delivery of healthcare.

“It is a completely open question, whether we will be capable of snapping our fingers and creating a set of incentives or policy drivers that will allow the creation of the next Geisinger [Health System] without waiting 50 years,” Dr. Wachter said. “These cultures take a long time to develop. It’s not just about the [organizational] chart and the way money flows. You have to develop the culture of shared governance.”

In what has become a rite, Dr. Wachter gives the closing address at SHM’s annual meeting. This year’s title: “Use Your Words: Understanding the New Language of Healthcare Reform.” He focused most of his speech on finding the balance between high-quality and low-cost patient care, particularly when viewed through the prism of the “cost curve,” the economic principle that measures benefits against their cost.

Medical care on the “flat part of the curve” equates to tests, procedures, or other engagements that might have prophylactic value but little clinical benefit. From a purely clinical point of view, that is acceptable, but layering in a cost-benefit analysis adds a more objective way of deciding whether the care delivered is “worth the cost,” Dr. Wachter said.

The reform bill, to my mind, mostly kicked the hard decision for cost, quality, and safety down the road.
—Bob Wachter, MD, MHM, chief of the hospitalist division, professor, and associate chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco

“The question is: Where do we want to live on this curve?” he added. “As you spend more money, you may be getting more benefit, but the incremental amount . . . pushes out past the flat part of curve.”

About Richard Quinn

Richard Quinn is an award-winning journalist with 15 years’ experience. He has worked at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and currently is managing editor for a leading commercial real estate publication. His freelance work has appeared in The Jewish State, The Hospitalist, The Rheumatologist, ACEP Now, and ENT Today. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and three cats.

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