Berwick: CFOs must lead change to a better healthcare system

Don Berwick, M.D., former administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and now official candidate for Massachusetts governor, charged healthcare financial leaders with navigating change to achieve a "triple aim" healthcare system that offers better care, better health and better costs, during a keynote address today at Healthcare Financial Management  Association's annual ANI conference.

Despite what might seem like insurmountable hurdles of government polarization, payer pushback and the public's fear that something is going to be taken away from them, Berwick said it is possible to develop a system of evidence-based, patient-centered care that involves lower costs and better outcomes. The consequences of doing nothing will be cutbacks in coverage, weakening of the safety net and more burden on individuals, said Berwick, founding CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Healthcare is going to change, whether we like it or not, Berwick said. There is no turning back and it is up to healthcare CFOs to lead the way for change. Perhaps a few hospitals will have success maintaining the status quo of keeping prices high and beds full, but the rest of society will suffer due to the inability to give workers higher wages and improve infrastructure, he said. 

There is too much waste in the system, he said. "Put patients first and give the money back," said Berwick, adding, "I know this will produce hives for many of you in the audience." 

And for those who doubt it is possible to achieve a better system that will remove waste, Berwick pointed to the team-based SouthCentral Foundation's Nuka healthcare system in Anchorage, Alaska, designed to help Native Americans in the region achieve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness.

Since its launch in 1998, Berwick said the system has seen a 50 percent decline in urgent care and emergency room visits, a 53 percent cut in hospital admissions, a 65 percent drop in visits to specialists, a 20 percent decline in primary care visits and an 80 percent decrease in staff turnover rate--all at a cost of about two-thirds of other providers. Furthermore, the system reports a 90 percent satisfaction rate among staff, patients and family.

"Don't be stuck in the old ways. You can't say it can't be done. We can save the world and solve this problem. It's not a problem of possibility. It's a problem of will," he said.

To learn more:
- read Berwick's abstract on the triple aim