Viewpoint: Who will bring change to American healthcare?

May 8, 2009

Though a little optimism never hurts, it is a fool's bet that politicians alone can fix what's wrong with our system.

If a couple of Medical Economics web polls are any indication, the pulse of primary care must be racing right about now.

Back in September, we asked which way you intended to vote in the presidential election. The result was unambiguous: Three out of every four respondents sided with Barack Obama. The self-styled candidate of change had captured the fancy of physicians in the trenches, it seemed.

Fast forward to April, and a new poll question: How has President Obama handled his first months in office?

Perhaps the timing of the question affected your responses. Obama had just weathered a series of embarrassing adviser appointments and the bow-out of Tom Daschle as presumptive head of Health and Human Services.

Besides, three months in office are barely enough to adequately gauge the First Lady's fashion sense, let alone the Commander-in-Chief's leadership ability in a time of strife. Still, it was difficult not to mistake some of your responses for a harbinger of dashed hopes-which is exactly what we don't need right now.

This is a time of great challenge and change, and a time when we need to hear your voice of authority.

The Obama administration has repeatedly expressed its determination to bring about healthcare reform. We saw it from day one with the deployment of Change.gov, an invitation to all Americans to share their views on how to create a better tomorrow. Many of you undoubtedly took part, and so did we.

Medical Economics, along with the rest of Advanstar Communications' family of healthcare publications and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, convened a roundtable discussion on healthcare reform in December, with the goal of ensuring that the voice of healthcare professionals-from practicing physicians to hospital and health plan executives to doctors from academia-was included in the national dialogue. A report summarizing that roundtable was submitted to the Obama administration, and you can view highlights of it at http://memag.com/reformtalk.

It was a first step to ensure that change doesn't happen in a vacuum, and there will be more steps to follow.

Now the campaign promises of last fall have morphed into legislation that is already causing divisiveness in Congress. In this issue, we explore the early measures taken by the Obama administration to save healthcare, from the President's approval of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its impact on physicians, to his charge that Congress work together to make reform a reality. You can read more about the top proposals under discussion, as well as the reactions to them by key medical associations and primary care physicians, in our cover feature, "Healthcare in crisis," which begins in this issue.

Though a little optimism never hurts, it is a fool's bet that politicians alone can fix what's wrong with our system.

"We need to liberate providers so that there are rewards for healthcare innovation," says Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School professor and longtime advocate of consumer-driven healthcare. She believes that successful reform will come not from elected representatives and appointees, but from those who keep the wheels of our healthcare system turning.

Herzlinger is fond of pointing out that countless top innovators, from Henry Ford to Bill Gates, were ordinary people who created something extraordinary-experts in their industries who knew what it took to build better and for less money.

Our nation has no shortage of fine cars and computers; now it needs a healthcare system that can keep its people-and providers-well. Don't underestimate your power to influence the change we so desperately need. Perhaps you are the one who will lead us all to a brighter path.

Erich Burnett Editor-in-Chief

Send your feedback to eburnett@advanstar.com
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