Saturday, November 7, 2009

Students tackle health reform

Inside the beltway, outside the beltway, on CNN, in town hall meetings and on the opinion pages, health reform has been front and center on the national stage in recent months.

The same was true at Saturday’s APHA Student Assembly meeting, “Looking Back, Moving Forward: Transforming the U.S. Health Care System.” Prior to the official kick-off of the APHA 137th Annual Meeting tomorrow here at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, about 150 students from public health programs across the country spent their afternoon engaging with expert speakers and networking with peers.

Glenna Krooks, PhD, a health care consultant who founded the Philadelphia-based Strategic Health Policy International Inc., told the student attendees that we should ditch the moniker “health care reform” and instead call it “health care reforming,” a term that better reflects the ongoing nature of improving such a complex system. She reminded listeners that with every problem solved in the field of public health, a new problem emerges.

Here’s an example: Infectious diseases used to be a leading cause of death, but as medicine and public health advanced, many diseases that were often serious or fatal became easily treatable. As a result, people lived long enough to develop chronic diseases — undoubtedly, one of today’s biggest public health problems. But does that “unintended consequence” of a rise in chronic disease rates mean that we’d want to give back penicillin or the polio vaccine? Of course not.

On the health care side, the ongoing challenge is to balance the competing interests of quality, cost and access. One important way to address quality and cost is the advancement of electronic health records, a priority funded to the tune of $10 billion in the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, more commonly known as the stimulus bill. Kesa Bond, an assistant professor in health information management at Temple University, said during the student meeting that an integrated, sharable electronic health records system is essential to save serious time and money in the health care sector — not to mention to prevent dangerous mix-ups.

A main message from the Student Assembly meeting: Advancing health care records into the 21st century is one important way to contribute to the continual process of improving medical care and public health — a process that shouldn’t end, regardless of how Congress moves on health reform.

For more from Krooks, check out the fantastically named blog she contributes to: Disruptive Women in Health Care.

— P.T.

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