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Take 5: The future of healthcare

May 17, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. - Former president and CEO of Tufts Medical Center, Ellen Zane, speaks on the topic of “The Future of Healthcare" during the Women Who Empower event on May 17, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

In the latest installment of the Women who Empower Speaker Series, Ellen Zane, the CEO emeritus of Tufts Medical Center and the Floating Hospital for Children, noted that high healthcare costs can’t be attributed to one particularly “bad actor.”

As Zane put it to approximately 100 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and healthcare stakeholders who filled the Alumni Center for the Tuesday evening lecture: “Everyone in my view is always looking for one bad actor, but the punch line is that there isn’t one kind of corporation that is responsible for why healthcare is so expensive. You have to understand that it’s a confluence of many moving parts, so there’s not going to be one silver bullet that fixes it.”

Here are five more takeaways from her talk, titled “The Future of Healthcare.”

‘Go-anywhere-you-want health plans come at a high price’

As the first female, non-physician CEO in the 220-year history of Tufts Medical Center, Zane focused on what she called the “five major drivers” of healthcare costs: providers, insurers, employers, consumers, and the government.

She explained that many employers allow their employees to seek care wherever and whenever they choose, driving up the cost of premiums. As she put it, “If you have an insurance card that says you can go anywhere, then you go where you want to go.”

To more effectively control costs, she recommends that employers change the design of their healthcare packages to include a  focus on “restricting [employees] to a very high quality network of doctors and hospitals that aren’t necessarily fully and widely open.”

‘Consumers need to take greater responsibility for their own health’

Zane thinks that it’s unfair for healthy young people who eat well and exercise regularly to be forced to pay for the cost of caring for those who neglect their own physical well-being.

“If people want to smoke and be obese and ride their bike without a helmet, they are increasing your healthcare costs,” she explained. “It’s not OK [for them] to say, ‘We have healthcare and should be covered.’” Later on, she added: “We have some responsibilities to care about each other, but there are limits on that.”

May 17, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. -  Former president and CEO of Tufts Medical Center, Ellen Zane, speaks on the topic of “The Future of Healthcare" during the Women Who Empower event on May 17, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Approximately 100 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and healthcare stakeholders filled the Alumni Center to listen to Zane’s lecture on the future of the healthcare industry.

‘Concierge medicine isn’t better care’

Zane fielded questions throughout her talk, sharing her point of view on topics ranging from concierge medicine to consumer health education. One person asked for her opinion on walk-in clinics, like CVS’ MinuteClinic. “I have come to believe there is a place for them, yet I worry about them being on a different information system and disintegrating care,” she replied. “But if your kid needs a physical before he goes off to camp, I don’t see a problem with that.”

On the value of concierge medicine, in which the patient pays his primary care physician an annual fee or retainer, she said: “It isn’t better care, but it is more hand-holding. If you can pay for it and that’s what you want, I can live with it, because there aren’t two levels of care.”

‘The opioid epidemic is destroying our society’

Toward the end of her talk, Zane reflected on the nationwide opioid epidemic, which is devastating American families and communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses killed more people in 2014 than any other year on record and have now surpassed car crashes as the No. 1 cause of accidental death.

“The opioid epidemic is destroying our society and something needs to be done to provide support services to people and families so we can make it a priority,” she explained. “I don’t believe restricting how doctors prescribe opiates in emergency rooms is the answer,” she added, “but like everything else in healthcare, there is no silver bullet about how to get our arms around this issue.” If we do nothing—if we don’t address the crisis “with our hearts and our wallets,” she said—“then we could turn a truly great society into one that is truly not great.”

‘Devices and robots are the ultimate healthcare disruptor’

In closing, Zane looked to the future of the healthcare industry, where new technology and analytical tools are poised to transform how doctors diagnose and treat their patients. She pointed in particular to the next generation of medical devices, which she called the “ultimate healthcare disruptor,” and then noted the increasing importance of Big Data and the power of predictive modeling.

“To predict what’s going to happen when you look at thousands of cases of patients with similar symptoms and know with good precision what you’re going to need and what is going to happen is your future,” she explained. “We will see this in our lifetimes.”

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