Health Care Innovation Is Key to Our Future

February 26, 2010

By Leslie D. Helm


LeslieIt’s hard to find anybody who is completely happy with the
course health care reform has taken.
Although it is possible that new legislation will provide regular health
care access to millions more Americans, it seems unlikely that we will see many
measures either to improve the quality of health care or to put a lid on the
growth of medical costs.

Those are serious problems. While America pays more per
capita for health care than any other country in the world ($7,421 per person
in 2007), it ranked 39th in infant mortality in 2006 and 36th in life
expectancy. The status quo is a national disgrace. Health care has also emerged
as a big burden to businesses, whose health care premiums have more than
doubled in the past decade.

There is reason for hope. The vast disparity in health care
cost and quality from region to region in our country suggests there are
significant opportunities to make improvements without necessarily making major
structural changes. New research in the comparative effectiveness of different
kinds of medical treatment should, for example, lead toward better health care

Health care providers in Washington already provide better
care at lower cost than other regions. We have little choice given the
relatively low Medicare reimbursements provided to our region. One reason for
our relative success is that we have some of the most creative and enterprising
health care individuals and organizations in the country. Seattle Business
‘s annual Leaders in Health Care
awards are designed to recognize those individuals who are helping to advance
the state of health care in our state.

The University
of Washington, for example, was one of eight hospitals worldwide to adopt a
World Health Organization-backed checklist system for surgery-a system modeled
on the checklists pilots use-that has significantly improved safety and quality
of care at UW’s hospitals while also cutting costs. UW has improved on the
checklist system with the Surgical Clinical Outcomes Assessment Program
(SCOAP), which enables hospitals to compare treatments and outcomes across
hospitals. Dr. David Flum, who played a significant role in launching both
initiatives, was our Outstanding Health Care Professional in the inaugural
Leaders in Health Care program last year.

This year’s list includes a doctor who helped introduce the
medical home program that has paradoxically reduced cost by allowing doctors to
spend more time with patients, a man who played a key role in the establishment
of Group Health Cooperative, and the CEO of a Spokane-based organization that
has taken advantage of electronic medical records to drive new efficiencies.

More innovation should, over time, result in higher quality,
more cost-effective care; healthier, happier employees and lower health care
costs. If Washington state can continue to do a better job of innovation,
health care could emerge as a source of local competitiveness rather than a
business burden.

Leslie sig

Leslie D. Helm