George Halvorson: We Are Close to a Medical Science Golden Age

Question: As you look to the future, what do you think provides the most encouragement?

George Halvorson: I think the fact that we now understand how important it is for caregivers to be connected, and that we now have the toolkit necessary to do that. A few years ago, you couldn’t connect anyone because there were no linkages. The internet didn’t exist; the ability of information to flow freely didn’t exist. And I think right now, there’s a sense that if you do the right job for patients with co-morbidities, you can seriously make their lives better. And there’s a toolkit that exists to do that and I think that it’s very exciting.

The other thing that I am really excited about is the fact that medical science is going to get a lot better with data. We now know that patients who had a certain type of belly fat 25 years ago are more likely to have Alzheimer’s. We know that certain cholesterol levels have a long term impact of Alzheimer’s. We know who – there are a whole series of things that we now know from looking at databases that we could not have possibly known before we had the longitudinal database. And we are going to be taking DNA and we’re going to have one of our projects is going to have DNA on about 500,000 people. So, it’s going to be a huge database. We’re going to tie the DNA database to the electronic medical record and if we are going to start looking for correlations, we’re doing to discover things and we are going to learn things right now that we don’t even suspect. There is going to be a learning that is going to come out of that and I think it is going to be extremely powerful. And when that happens, then we can start focusing on optimal care on patients in a very important way.

So, that gives me great confidence and it is very exciting and I think we are very close to a golden age. We’ve very close to a medical science golden age that is only empowered by data. Most medical research projects right now have 200 patients, 300 patients, they run for three years, and they stop. If you look at the kind of medical research that’s out there, it’s tiny samples for short timeframes. And we’re going to have the ability to do massive samples, in extended timeframes, and figure things out that you can’t figure out without that. So, that’s very exciting.

Recorded on:  September 21, 2009

The CEO of Kaiser is optimistic about the future of U.S. health care.

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