DeSalvo: HM needs holistic approach to health care


LAS VEGAS – To deliver her message of inclusion Tuesday morning, former acting assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, could think of “no finer group” than those assembled before her at HM17.

The thousands of hospitalists gathered to hear her keynote address, “Rethinking Health: The Vital Role of Hospitals and the Hospitalist,” listened as she talked about including more than just the best medical care in HM’s scope of practice. The job must evolve to include a focus on such social issues as economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, and access to healthy options for food.

In other words, Dr. DeSalvo wondered aloud, what good is treating a grandmother’s heart failure over and over if she’s always going to return to the hospital because her home, her neighborhood, or her finances mean she is unable to prevent recurring health issues?

Dr. Brian Harte conducts an interveiw with Dr. Karen DeSalvo duing the opening plenary Tuesday at HM17. Darnell Scott

Dr. Brian Harte conducts an interview with Dr. Karen DeSalvo during the opening plenary Tuesday at HM17.

Hospitalists “have been at the center of change, not only in building a new field and showing us that medicine doesn’t have to always be the way it always was,” she said. “You have been at the forefront of seeing that we’re getting better value out of our health care system and, though that work must continue, you must also begin to broaden our thinking and understand that the drivers of health are much more than [just] health care. There are social determinants, social factors.”

Dr. DeSalvo, an internist by training, understands that dealing with social issues may seem like a role for others, but she said that the implications of those factors directly impact hospitalists and their institutions via issues such as readmissions.

“These things … don’t just matter conceptually,” she said. “They [have] direct relationships with mortality and morbidity and cost. They are literally affecting people’s lives in this country every day. When we begin to adjust them, to impact them, you can see that it also affects the health care system.”

On the front lines, Dr. DeSalvo said that hospitalists and others can work to take advantage of their hospital’s existing tools to link their patients to available resources, partner with local public health offices, and push to make their hospitals “anchor institutions to build community capacity to address these social determinants.”

Dr. DeSalvo also praised HM as a field that has already embraced value-based payment (VBP) models. She said that ability to anticipate and adapt to health care’s changing needs positions the field well as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) moves health care from fee-for-service to payment models that seek to manage risk and penalize mistakes.

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