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Good, Bad & the Ugly at the Aspen Health Forum

by John Moore | August 04, 2009

skimming_stones3Little over a week ago, Chilmark Research attended the Aspen Institute’s Health Forum, that addressed an eclectic mix of health issues from the Pursuit of Happiness, to the Epidemic of Childhood Obesity, Food/Nutrition, to making the most of Stimulus funding for the Sciences. There was even a session on HIT.  Following are a few snippets and impressions from the Health Forum.

Bringing together what may be argued as one of the most comprehensive and broad-based health agendas in an event  that Chilmark has experienced, the Health Forum provided one the opportunity to view health in a holistic manner that simply is not found in other events.  Coupling the agenda with such luminaries as former Senator Tom Daschle, Aetna’s CEO Ron Williams, Zoe Baird from Markle, Dr.Mamet Oz, of Oprah fame (like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz is launching his own TV show next year), Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Patch Adams and many others, you had the makings of a outstanding Forum.  This certainly gave one the opportunity to meet and hear from many who are in one form or another setting the healthcare agenda for this country. A very good line-up.

But part of the ugly was that few of these discussions, panel sessions, what have you, delved deep into their respective subject matter, instead skimming over the top of the issues like a stone skipping across the surface of a smooth lake.  That’s not to say one did not learn a thing or two, its just that there was more potential here then what was actually delivered.

And the downright bad? Well, some of the speakers on the agenda appeared to have gotten their speaking slot via connections or possibly a large donation to the Aspen Institute.  While there were several of these, one of the more blatant ones was the founder on mymedmanager, a company that sells a notebook in your local bookstore to assist one in managing their meds, doctor visits, etc.  In this age of the Internet, the move to digitizing records, the use of clinical decision support tools to check med lists, and so on, the promotion of a paper-based PHR seemed downright archaic.  So how did she end up on the agenda giving a presentation that was filled with hyperbole and misleading statistics?  Luckily, her presentation was an anomaly and not the norm.

Some of the gems were…

A session entitled: A Discussion with Industry Leaders, where Reed Tuckson, EVP & Chief of Medical Affairs at United Health Group (he was formerly public health commissioner for Washington DC) outlined the six essentials for accessible, sustainable, appropriate care in health reform.

1) Consumerism is coming to healthcare and time to move to truly patient-centric care. (Unfortunately, throughout almost all sessions, there was little use of the term consumer, citizen, etc., just patient – and thius naturally assuming sick care, not wellness and prevention.)
2) Consumers taking on greater responsibility for care and costs thereof.  The pig in the python – mobilizing the system to provide appropriate care – need to actively move to preventive care model, of all med research, only 1% goes to prevention research.
3) Better research and dissemination of research results in context of evidence-based care.
4) Confront the reality of waste in the healthcare system.
5) Create medical management systems and processes that are more aggressive to reduce readmits, hospitalizations, etc. with a drive towards more effective and efficient use of technology.
6) Better information exchange that engages the consumer to enable consumers to have the information and the decision support tools to more proactively take better care of themselves.

During this session Mark Ganz, President and CEO of Regence BCBS spoke of their company’s own experience with wellness programs.  In a story that was basically one of “eating your own dog food” Ganz related how Regence had issues with their own employees’ health, or lack thereof.  In instituting various wellness programs for their employees, Regence found that the key to success was a singular focus to wellness programs.  Ganz went on to state that most employer/payer sponsored wellness programs today fail due to this lack of focus.  You can’t just throw a bunch of programs out there and expect them to succeed.  Clear targets, clear objectives and a clear program to achieve them is required.

Mamet Oz gave an excellent broad ranging keynote titled “Health Care in America – Its All About You.” Over the course of his presentation, Oz addressed healthy behaviors, the need for a compact between the government and consumer wherein the government puts in place a system where healthcare is provided for all, but the consumer also agrees to take on more personally responsibility for maintaining their health.  In his view, the Smart Patient will:

Know their medical history and is able to share it.
Clearly in support of consumer access and management of their personal health information.
Will go out and get a second opinion (only 10% of patients do this today). Medicine is too complex to leave all decisions in the hands of one physician.
Finds an advocate. The healthcare system, if you can even call it a system is very complex today.  Patients need an advocate to assist them through this maze leaving the patient to deal with their illness.
Know their medications and adhere to them. Medication knowledge and compliance is a big issue.  We need better solutions to assist patients with this task.


Good event for networking and if you are lucky, you’ll step into a few sessions that will provide a unique and more expansive view of what health is and is not.  Health is a complex subject with a multitude of factors that contribute to one’s overall sense of health and well-being.  This does cause one to think and think hard about all of the proposed health care reform proposals now being bantered about in Washington.  Yes, the system is broken and does need reform, but are we focusing on the right issues?

Clearly, what legislators are focusing on today is sick care and not health care.  Until we turn the tables and begin looking at all of the factors that impact the health of the individual, from good nutrition, to good exercise, to creating a sense of well-being, wonderment and joy we will not arrive at our destination of a healthier nation.  Yes, we may be able to provide all citizens with sick care but we will not foster a new cultural identity that demands a level of commitment and responsibility on the part of the citizen to take better care of themselves, nor will we put in place the systems, the communities, the support infrastructure for a healthier nation.

Given time to reflect on the Health Forum, if indeed their objective was to expose the audience to this multi-faceted view of what health ought to include (no, it not just about what happens in the doctor’s office) then indeed this was a very successful event and one that others may wish to emulate.

Stay up to the minute.

“As biometric data becomes cheaper and easier to collect through smart sensors, devices, and mobile apps, expect to see more innovations in consumer health.”

-Alicia Vergaras