George Halvorson: We Are Close to a Medical Science Golden Age
George C. Halvorson is chairman and chief executive officer of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, headquartered in Oakland, California. Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan and hospital system, serving more than 8.6 million members and generating $40 billion in annual revenue.
George Halvorson serves on the Institute of Medicine Task Force on Evidence Based Care and the Commonwealth Commission for a High Performing Health System. He serves on the American Hospital Association’s Advisory Committee on Health Care Reform. He chairs the World Economic Conference Health Governors for 2009 and chairs the International Federation of Health Plans. He has received the Modern Healthcare/Health Information and Management Systems Society CEO IT Achievement Award. The Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange also awarded him the 2009 Louis Sullivan Award for leadership and achievements in advancing health care quality.
Halvorson has written several health care reform books, including the newly released Health Care Will Not Reform Itself: A User’s Guide to Refocusing and Reforming American Health Care. He also wrote Health Care Reform Now!, Health Care Co-ops in Uganda, Strong Medicine, and Epidemic of Care as guidebooks for health care reform.
Halvorson served as an advisor to the governments of Uganda, Great Britain, Jamaica, and Russia on issues of health policy and financing. His strong commitment to diversity and inter-ethnic healing has led him to his current writing project, a new book about racial prejudice around the world.
Prior to joining Kaiser Permanente, Halvorson was president and chief executive officer of HealthPartners, headquartered in Minneapolis. With more than 30 years of health care management experience, he has also held several senior management positions with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
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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