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Dr. Don Berwick at the Health Action Conference

By Josh Spaulding

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Don Berwick, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Dr. Berwick has been an innovator leader in improving quality patient-centered care and lowering hospital-related illness.  He has led CMS since June 2010 when President Obama used a recess appointment to install him as Administrator.  This week, Obama renominated him to head CMS.  Dr. Berwick awaits the Senate to confirm his appointment.

Dr. Berwick spent most of his remarks discussing CMS’s role in health reform and the challenges they face with improving care and lowering costs as well as making sure beneficiaries receive services amid tightening state budgets.  When you think about it, CMS has a powerful role of U.S. health care.  They are charged with providing care to 1 in 3 Americans through overseeing Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  How CMS implements the new health reform law will have consequences for the entire health care system.

Dr. Berwick first touched on the good things that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already done.  It has provided seniors with prevention benefits, reduced the prescription donut hole and made sure that coverage can’t be taken away when it is most needed.  The ACA is also providing tools to make our health care system more patient-centered.  He brought up an example of a patient he treated 20 years ago that was in the hospital 38 to 40 times in his young life because of shortened bowels that was causing him issues with nutrition.  He asked the kid to write down three things that the hospital could do better.  The kid wrote down:

  1. Tell me what it is you’re going to do to me.
  2. Talk to each other.
  3. Let me make the decision on what treatments I receive.

Berwick kept the paper the kid wrote this on for 20 years because it is what health professionals should strive for. The patient needs to be at the center of care by letting them know what treatments are necessary, open communication between surgeons and specialists and nurses to make sure there isn’t duplication or contradictory care being administered and remembering that the patient is the boss.

Berwick also touched on the need for more proactive and coordinated approach to improve quality and reduce costs in care.   We need to spread excellence through out the system.  If a hospital in Omaha, NE is able to lower the rate of hospital borne illnesses that approach needs to be shared with hospitals across the country.  That’s part of the mission for the new Center for Innovation at CMS.

It was great to hear directly for Dr. Berwick and all the hard work they are doing at CMS to implement the new law and to improve our system through focusing on better health for the population, better care for the individual and lowering the cost of care.

Tomorrow will be an even more exciting day! President Obama will be speaking first thing in the morning.  I will be attending and reporting back what he says via twitter.  If you’re not following us on twitter, do so before tomorrow morning to get updates on President Obama’s speech.  That’s all for now.  I’ll be back tomorrow to share more from the conference.


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