Bob Wachter Puts Forward Spin on Patient Safety, Quality of Care at HM13


Dr. Wachter

Most hospitalists have heard the adage “If you’ve seen one hospitalist group, you’ve seen one hospitalist group.” Another HM truism is “If you’ve seen one SHM annual meeting, then you’ve seen Bob Wachter, MD, MHM.”

Dr. Wachter, professor, chief of the division of hospital medicine, and chief of the medical service at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, is to HM conventions as warfarin is to anticoagulation. His keynote address is the finale to the yearly confab, and HM13’s version is scheduled for noon May 19 at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

This year’s address is titled “Quality, Safety, and IT: A Decade of Successes, Failures, Surprises, and Epiphanies.” Dr. Wachter spoke recently with The Hospitalist about his annual tradition.

Question: With your interest in the intersection between healthcare and politics, to be back in D.C. has to be something enjoyable for you to write and talk about.

Answer: It’s a very interesting time in the life of healthcare, in that now that everybody knows that the [Affordable Care Act] is real and not going away, and we’re actually beginning to implement parts of it, you can kind of see what the future is going to look like, and everybody’s responding. And there are parts of that that are very exciting, because they’re forcing us to think about value in new ways. [And] there are parts of it that are somewhat frustrating.

Q: Does that give the hospitalist community the chance to ride herd on more global issues?

A: I think that’s the most optimistic interpretation—that we stick to our knitting, that we continue to be the leaders in improvement, and eventually all of the deals will be done, lawyers will be dismissed, and people will turn back to focusing on performance and say to us, “Thank goodness you’ve been doing this work, because now we realize that it’s not just about contracts; it’s about how we deliver care, and you’re the ones that have been leading the way.”

Q: What’s the most realistic interpretation?

A: This work gets less attention and less support than it needs. … I think we’re going to go through three to five years where we’re continuing to do the work. It’s really important—in many ways, it’s as important as growing—but as its importance is growing, the importance of other things that require more tending-to by the senior leadership is growing even faster. The risk is that there will be a disconnect.

Q: When you see the literature that suggests just how difficult the nuts and bolts implementation of reform is, what message do you want to get across to the people who are going to be listening, in terms of actually implementing all of this?

A: The message I don’t want to get across is “frustration, burnout, and it’s not worth it.” The endgame is worth it. The endgame is not even elective. We have to get to a place where we’re delivering higher-quality, safer, more satisfying care to patients at a lower cost. We’re in a unique position to deliver on that promise. … This is really tough stuff, and it takes time and it takes learning.

Check out our 6-minute feature video: "Five Reasons You Should Attend HM13"

Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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