Health’s Great Challenges are hot topics this week

At TEDMED 2012, conference Delegates and TEDMED Live attendees voted to choose the top 20 Great Challenges, the most pressing, pervasive and complex issues the nation is grappling with in health and medicine. They chose well, apparently. Conversation on many of the Challenges — the goal of the program — was lively both among the TEDMED community at at large, including features on blogs and in major news media.

David Mayer, MD, vice president of Quality and Safety for MedStar Health, wrote about Challenge #5, Eliminating Medical Errors, on his blog, “as this is a problem that persists despite the hard work of many of us who have dedicated our careers trying to prevent,” he writes. Educating students and residents is critical to reducing error, he says, not only to hit the ground running with good training, but in offering fresh perspectives on the issue. A contributor, Kare Anderson, made waves with the piece, How Hospitals Can Stop Killing So Many Patients. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the country, she cites, and suggests that patients demand accountability and transparency, and then do as much comparison shopping as possible before selecting a hospital. We’ve heard it before: We spend more time shopping for a television than for a doctor, even though the stakes are, of course, incalculably higher.

End-of-life Care, Challenge #3, garnered much attention thanks to an op-ed by Bill Keller in The New York Times, “How to Die.” Keller wrote about an in-hospital hospice protocol in the U.K. that offer an alternative to the sometimes invasive and painful, and often fruitless measures, that accompany our last days here in the U.S. End-of-life care is a huge cost issue, Keller writes:

“….a quarter or more of Medicare costs are incurred in the last year of life, which suggests that we are squandering a fortune to buy a few weeks or months of a life spent hooked to machinery and consumed by fear and discomfort.”

Yet we should approach dying with dignity more out of concerts for the patient and his or her family, he says — a kinder way of death — than out of fiscal prudence, which will ultimately make palliative care more popular and culturally acceptable for the American public as well. On a brighter note, TEDMED’s new consulting clinical editor Pritpal Tamber, M.D., director of Optimising Clinical Knowledge — which helps organizations implement established clinical know-how — wrote on his blog wrote about what’s needed on all fronts to manage these daunting hurdles we face:  an inspiration immersion, leading to a badly needed healthcare reinvention.  Welcome, Pritpal!