Sebelius: US healthcare delivery system stuck in 20th century

Getty Images

The U.S. healthcare delivery system is stuck in "the 20th century" for failing to keep up with recent medical and technological advances, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday.

The secretary said the overall experience of going to the doctor was little-changed from 40 years ago.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The only difference is the dates on the magazines in the waiting room,” Sebelius said in her keynote address at The Aspen Institute and The Advisory Board Company's Care Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C.

Sebelius called the disparity between the “march of human progress” in medicine and information technology, and the stasis in the doctor-patient relationship “the great dichotomy” of modern-day healthcare in the United States.

“We have to face facts,” she said. “If you were to give our nation a grade on health innovation, at best I’d say we’d get an incomplete.”

The secretary touted the Obama administration’s efforts to change the incentive-structure for doctors, and to make data more readily available for hospitals and patients.

She said these efforts were “too often overlooked” because they take place behind the scenes.

On data, Sebelius said the administration was “moving an entire health system into the electronic age” through “incentives in the Affordable Care Act.” She said one of the primary initiatives at HHS was the “democratization” of information, arguing that patients with digital records are more likely to get higher-quality care.

And on service, Sebelius said the administration was “in the process of creating incentives to better align the care strategies.” She said doctors have too much incentive to do as many procedures as possible, rather than to get those procedures right.

Sebelius added that by producing “better outcomes rather than more procedures,” it was possible to “to slow spending growth at the same time you speed economic growth.”

Still, the secretary knows firsthand how difficult it can be to overhaul such ingrained aspects of the U.S. healthcare system.

Many of the states running their own ObamaCare exchanges are still suffering from critical technological problems that are preventing people from signing up for coverage. And even though the federal online portal is running smoothly now for consumers, the back-end is still being built, almost five-months after the launch.