PHOENIX-With the election of President Barack Obama and with lawmakers in Washington poised to overhaul the health care system, with patients’ faith in their doctors faltering, and with health costs continuing to rise and quality becoming ever more questionable, Gerald B. Healy, MD, took the lectern for his keynote address here as if he were taking the helm of a ship at risk of being capsized by stormy seas.
Explore this issue:July 2009
The immediate past president of the American College of Surgeons told a room packed with his colleagues that there is no doubt but that the world of medicine is at the threshold of great change-and that they can either do their part to make sure it is change for the better, or risk suffering the consequences if they stand by idly.
There are young folks just out of college sitting around Capitol Hill this afternoon talking about cost-benefit issues in health care, said Dr. Healy, Otolaryngologist-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital of Boston and Professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School. So I ask you: Do you want to be involved in this, or do you want to let them do it for you? We need to step up here, folks. For too long, we’ve come to these meetings, we’ve comfortably talked to one another, we’ve shared wonderful ideas about outcomes, and so forth. But we’re not out there playing in the arena of the rest of the health care world being part of the solution. Oh, we can identify the problems quite well, but we don’t have enough time to be part of the solution.
Without the input and effort of those with the expertise-Dr. Healy and his fellow surgeons-the overhaul will not be one that they will like, he told the crowd at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Head & Neck Society, conducted as part of the Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meeting.
Guess what? This is your future, especially [that of] the young surgeons in this room, he said. Your future is here. If you don’t want to spend the time doing this, no problem. There are plenty of people who will do it for you-and then watch the crying and screaming that will come forth when we are faced with a system that we failed to help design and yet are forced to work with.
A President’s Perspective
Dr. Healy said his perspectives on health care’s growing problems were sharpened during his year as president of the American College of Surgeons. He took a year off from his practice and visited 31 states and seven foreign countries in 2007 and 2008. His interaction with surgeons and organized patient groups in those places left him thinking about how doctors are vulnerable to criticism from the people they treat. Furthermore, he said, doctors are missing the chance to educate patients about what will happen if government officials design a new system.