Mapping the year's landmarks: How medicine is advancing

Robert M. Wah, MD , Former President

Over the year I have been AMA president, we’ve worked to maintain a strong foundation of tradition while also maximizing the opportunity for positive changes in our evolving health care system.

I’m proud to say that the AMA has hit a number of important landmarks this past year.

The biggest landmark was overcoming the hurdle of Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. We physicians and our patients endured the SGR formula’s perennial threats of steep payment cuts and the instability those threats created. By speaking out together, we managed the strenuous, uphill marathon and at last ended this problem that has plagued us for over a decade, clearing the hurdle.

Now, we’re in a new era of health care—one of promise, stability and sustainability. A huge landmark, to be sure.

Advancing practice sustainability

We also have seen landmarks in other important areas.

In March, the AMA released its most recent study with the RAND Corporation. The study investigated physician experiences with the adoption of health care delivery and payment reforms. It was a clear look into what physicians are saying about the evolution of payment models—and a window into how the AMA needs to help physicians adopting these new models.

Part of new practice model adoption is having the right technology to get things done. The problem is that many electronic health records (EHR) systems don’t make it easy. In September, a panel of experts convened by the AMA developed a framework for EHR usability that will drive improvements to both the technology and the delivery of care.

And we’re working with entrepreneurs and innovators at the ground level with our involvement in health technology incubator MATTER. All of this work reflects our commitment to securing long-term paths to professional satisfaction and practice sustainability through research, data and analytics.

Relieving the burden of chronic disease

Beside helping physicians put the joy back into the practice of medicine, we also are working to relieve the burden of disease facing our country.

This burden is heavy. The PBS documentary, Rx: The Quiet Revolution, which aired in April, did a great job of giving a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities in America’s health care system. Emmy-winning director David Grubin also found doctors transforming the way we provide medical care to patients with chronic diseases through a team approach that lowers costs, enhances quality and improves outcomes.

Nationally, we’re working to relieve this burden through our Improving Health Outcomes initiative. Through this effort, we’re developing ways physician practices can partner with their patients and the community to prevent two of the most common chronic conditions—heart disease and type 2 diabetes—before they start.

For example, we just launched a new multi-year partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevent Diabetes STAT: Screen, Test, Act—Today. The partnership will help physicians connect patients with diabetes prevention programs in their communities or online. We also have released a guide to help physicians set up self-measured blood pressure monitoring programs in their practices, which can empower patients to get high blood pressure under control.

Creating the physician of tomorrow

Through our work, we’re imagining a better, healthier future. Physicians need to be better equipped to handle the health needs of that future.

To that end, our Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative has advanced with our consortium of  medical schools where we invested 11 million dollars in grants, which are a year into implementing innovative projects. These projects will spur change in med ed across the country—a system that can use new ideas and innovation, since the Flexner Report was published more than a 100 years ago.

Our team is listening to what students wish they were learning in med school and adapting to students’ needs. We’re investigating a new core science that will give students the skills they need to navigate the complicated health care system. And we’re harnessing new technology to improve patient care.

Staying connected

One of the best parts of being AMA president has been hearing from my peers. Over the past year, I had the opportunity to speak with physicians across the country about the challenges they were facing—both in person and online. I hope you continue to tweet at me (@RobertWahMD) so we can keep discussing and celebrating important landmarks.