For more than 25 years, the incoming president of the American Medical Association has been invited to address the Rotary Club of Jacksonville’s members and guests.
That tradition continued Monday when Dr. Robert Wah, who will take over next month as AMA president, discussed the state of health care in America and shared some of the association’s plans.
Wah served as a captain in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps for 23 years, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, before practicing and teaching at Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Md., and the National Institutes of Health.
He also serves as chief medical officer for Computer Sciences Corp., a company that provides information technology products for the health care industry.
Each year since 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was approved by Congress, the AMA president-elect has commented on the plan to insure more Americans.
Wah admitted there remains a strong debate over the program.
“There is a lot of good in it and a lot of not so good in it,” Wah said.
One aspect that is worth supporting, Wah said, is the goal of allowing 32 million more people to have health insurance.
“Without insurance, patients live sicker and die younger,” he said.
The AMA would like the amount of uncompensated care to decrease. He said last year, $60 billion in health care costs were not paid by patients or insurance companies.
“That is a tremendous burden. If more people have insurance, that burden should be lessened,” he said.
The association has identified three areas to be improved over the next five years: Health care outcomes, medical education and physician satisfaction.
Wah said the AMA is conducting a pilot program with the YMCA that appears to reduce the number of people who transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes.
Preliminary results indicate that conversion to diabetes can be reduced as much as 70 percent in patients 60 years of age and
“There may come a day when doctors will refer patients to the YMCA,” Wah said.
He said since the AMA was founded in 1847, one of its missions has been to improve medical education. Last year, the association awarded $11 million in grants to medical schools for the implementation of new programs.
“Medical education is the life blood of our profession,” Wah said.
One area of focus is educating doctors on business practices as well as medicine,
“We must train medical students to be more business-savvy and teach them how to fit into and lead a team-based care system,” said Wah.
A survey of physicians conducted by the Rand Corp. showed that physicians are very satisfied when they have a positive impact on their patients’ lives.
“Physicians are very dissatisfied with everything that gets in the way of that,” Wah said.
He cited new laws requiring electronic recordkeeping as one area of concern.
Asked about the tremendous increase in the prices of pharmaceuticals, Wah said he was not defending the drug companies, but new developments come with a price.
“We want new therapies. We have witnessed some miraculous changes,” he said. “Antibiotics changed the way we take care of patients. We have some good tools in our toolbox, but they come at great cost.”
One of the biggest challenges facing health care for the next several years will be a shortage of physicians.
Wah said America’s aging population will require more medical care and when more people have health insurance, they use more services.
“We need 135,000 more physicians and we’re not prepared to provide that many new physicians,” he said.