People First 

People First - Fall 2011 - From the Playbook: Putting Patients First

How do you visualize building a better health system? Kriss Wittmann, a graphic artist, rendered a "graphic record" of one of the discovery sessions at the 2011 Colorado Health Symposium. Here is her depiction of the discussion PDF icon "Building a Better Health System: People Partnering with Providers," complete with stories and insights from panelists and participants.

From the Playbook: Putting Patients First
Health experts analyze new strategies at the 2011 Colorado Health Symposium

By Bob Mook
Illustration by Kriss Wittmann

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an abridged excerpt from "State of Health: Seizing Opportunities, Achieving Results," a summary of the 2011 Colorado Health Symposium, held July 27-29 at the Keystone Resort & Conference Center. A full report is available for downloading on the Colorado Health Foundation's website at

Thanks to health care reform, those who receive health care services are beginning to see a shift in the traditional balance of power from providers to individuals and families. Yet, despite these dramatic changes, panelists at the 2011 Colorado Health Symposium concurred that health care has failed to connect with those outside the industry. As a result, Americans are confused, misinformed or simply unaware about the goals and provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). From a clinical standpoint, the failure of physicians and providers to communicate with individuals has led to inferior care.

On Day One of the Symposium, a group of panelists explored causes for concern as well as emerging trends that could bridge the gap between health care professionals and those whom they serve.

"I feel we got the best bill we could have had at the time," said Kavita Patel, MD, a fellow and managing director of The Brookings Institution. "It would have been better if we were more thoughtful in engaging the very people we were trying to reach." Patel, who moderated the session, served in the Obama administration.

Though one goal of the ACA is to put patients in the "center" of health care, the panelists concurred there's still much work to be done in that area. "We need to get away from the provider-based conversation and focus on what the patient needs," said George D. Bussey, MD, chief medical officer of HCA Continental Division and HealthONE. To accomplish that, Bussey said health professionals need to put evidence in front of dogma and technology. "We all know something is wrong with how we deliver and how we pay for health care." Bussey said the industry should keep a precision focus on improving how care is experienced by patients and their families. "And somehow, we need to do this without spending more money."

Deborah Trautman, executive director of the Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Transformation, said "patient-centered care" will be a critical component of reform. "Very few of us dispute [that] we need to look forward at how we can improve the system and we absolutely can't do it without thinking of how we engage patients and how we've done it in the past," she said. Trautman opined that optimism and resilience are going to be "incredibly important" in health care during the next several years. She added that evidence, relationships and communications will be key to improving health care and making reform successful.

A relative newcomer to health care, Brieanna Seefeldt, chief resident of the Swedish Family Medical Residency, lauded the patient-centered approach that emphasizes preventive care and teamwork among health care professionals as one step to improve communications and health care. For her part, Seefeldt said she's trying to improve her own bedside manner. "I try to break things down by one or two things a patient needs, and I'm doing a better job listening," Seefeldt said.

The panel cited signs of hope in Colorado and elsewhere – both regarding reform and health care in general. Regarding reform, Robert Restuccia, executive director of Community Catalyst, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group, said people will begin to appreciate the ACA once the provisions go into effect. "Frankly, people learn by doing," he said. "Once they see they can get affordable insurance and their kids won't fall through the cracks, I think they'll want to move forward."