ASU president, former Surgeon General address issues with health care system

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(Kelcie Johnson/DD)

From left: Mayo Clinic’s Wyatt Decker, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona and ASU President Michael Crow discussed health care reform Wednesday at the Arizona Science Center. (Kelcie Johnson/DD)

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said Wednesday that the current health care system is unsustainable but reform in non-political avenues such as education offers a solution.

Carmona spoke about the institutional problems and future of health care in a panel discussion at the Arizona Science Center. ASU President Michael Crow and Mayo Clinic Vice President and CEO in Arizona Dr. Wyatt Decker also spoke on the panel about health care goals.

More than 18 percent of GDP is spent on health care, Carmona said. But 75 cents of each dollar spent on health care is spent treating chronic diseases, most of which are preventable.

“It’s not health care, folks. It’s sick care,” Carmona said.

Although the health care system has experienced persistent problems, Carmona said the economic imperative is the driving force behind reform efforts.

Health care is based on a perverse incentive system, Carmona said. Physicians’ pay is contingent on the number of procedures performed rather than the quality of their work.

Decker said health care reform hopes to prioritize what’s best for patients.

“We hope to pay for excellent outcomes,” Decker said. “What people want is to be well and stay well.”

The goal is to provide the best care with the least amount of cost to the most people, Carmona said. To do this, perspectives must shift.

“Science is moving faster than the systems we have in place,” Carmona said.

Crow said institutional reform begins with education reform.

“We have to put the 10x mirror to the face of the university and realize we haven’t adapted quickly enough,” Crow said.

ASU is reconstructing its institutional design with the School for the Science of Health Care Delivery and the colleges of Health Solutions and Nursing and Health Innovation. ASU hopes to train future nurses and physicians to have a broader concept of health care.

Together, ASU and Mayo Clinic intend to solve health care problems at the idea level.

ASU has collaborated with Mayo Clinic since 2003 on projects including a joint nursing education program, dual degree programs and research, according to an ASU press release.

Carmona said the biggest hindrance to health care reform is politics.

“I don’t want a Democratic solution or a Republican solution,” he said. “I want an American solution.”

Decker added that citizens shouldn’t just be “cogs in the wheel” but should understand the system and how it affects them.

“The solution to the nation’s problems won’t come out of Washington,” Decker said. “(Solutions will) come from concerned individuals who want to make a difference.”

The collaboration of ASU and Mayo Clinic offers an apolitical plan for health care reform.

“All change starts from one small group,” Crow said.

William Bendall, a first-year student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Phoenix, said health care reform is inspiring. Bendall said joining multiple disciplines can positively impact people’s lives.

“The ball has been passed, and we’re ready to take it,” Bendall said.

But health care reform isn’t a sporting match to Crow.

“The local community has got to understand we’re not playing a game here. This is not an academic exercise,” Crow said. “We are actually involved in changing how we educate people so we have some chance of solving these problems.”

It will take a concerted effort to change long-standing health care policies.

“We’re trying to move out from the pack into the rapids with these kayaks, and there’s a lot of rough and tumble,” Crow said. “There’s up, there’s down, there’s flipped upside down, but we’re trying to find a way down this river to produce this new solution.”

Contact the reporter at katherine.sitter@asu.edu