Frist urges HIMSS attendees? involvement in solving U.S. healthcare crisis

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ORLANDO–Bill Frist, MD, two-term United States Senator from Tennessee and 23rd U.S. Senate majority leader took to the stage at the 2008 HIMSS conference Monday morning and discussed his vision of healthcare challenges over the next few years in a keynote address delivered to a standing-room only audience.

In a non-partisan speech, Frist identified five major trends impacting U.S. healthcare:

1. Demographics and the aging population;
2. Consumerism and the shift to retail models;
3. Disease trends and chronic diseases dominating healthcare markets;
4. Healthcare IT and personalized medicine; and
5. Legislation and increasing government regulation.

As a cardio-thoracic transplant surgeon, 12-year veteran of the Senate, a professor of healthcare economics and policy at Princeton University in New Jersey with Uwe Reinhard, and a partner at a private investment firm, Frist’s multifaceted career has provided him a wealth of experience on which to draw.

“The United States has twice the per capita spending on healthcare than any other developed nation,” he said. However, this spending does not equate with better outcomes. Frist noted that the U.S. has a lower life span post-60 and a higher infant mortality rate than many other developed nations.

He attributed 40 percent of the proportional contribution to premature death in the U.S. to behavior and 10 percent to health services. Addressing these two components, through behavior changes and the implementation of healthcare IT systems to reduce medical errors and enhance patient safety, could cut the rate of premature death in half, he said.

Healthcare IT is a unifying concept for Democrats and Republicans, he said, pointing to healthcare legislation co-sponsored by he and Senator Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) during his tenure in Congress. Admitting that there are differences between the parties in how healthcare reform is to be accomplished; he was adamant that the looming Medicare crisis must be addressed by whichever party next occupies the White House.

“Medicare reform must begin with the next administration,” he declared.

Displaying economic projections that the Medicare trust fund will be depleted by 2019, in contrast with Social Security trust fund projections that show it depleted by 2041, Frist stated that the time for action is upon the U.S.

“There are too few workers to support each retiree at the continuing level of entitlements,” he said.

Turning to the ongoing primary campaigns for the Republican and Democratic nominees for president, he noted that the Democrats have been much more specific about healthcare plans, whereas Republicans have been more nebulous. However, he anticipates more specificity from both parties in this area once their respective nominees have been selected.

Stating his bias as a life-long Republican, Frist offered counsel that the next administration should be careful not to legislate regulatory shackles prohibiting entrepreneurship and creativity inherent to the private market. Yet, he said, it is critical that the U.S. facilitate true interoperability for the more seamless use of information from both a financing and health services delivery standpoint.

“A more egalitarian approach to healthcare is appropriate and can be done in a way that doesn’t stifle innovation, creativity, competition, or private enterprise,” he observed.

Frist exhorted his audience of healthcare IT professionals to lend their expertise to solving the healthcare problems facing the U.S.

“Pick your issue, pick your side, and by all means—get involved,” he stated.