Tom Urban, president/CEO of Mercy Hospital Fairfield, used to be glad when his hospital was brimming with patients. Soon, he says, he'll instead be glad when it's almost empty.

It's not that Urban doesn't want Mercy to care for patients "” rather, in the near future, a focus on preventive care should keep people out of the hospital in the first place. It's just one of many paradigm shifts affecting the medical community.

Business leaders, employees and patients in general are facing a slew of questions on the changes in medicine, and Cincy and the West Chester -  Liberty Chamber Alliance sought to sort them out at the inaugural Healthcare Summit on Dec. 1, 2010. Humana, CBTS, Hylant Group and ITA Audio Visual Solutions sponsored the event, held at Savannah Center in West Chester.

In a spirited back-and-forth discussion that prompted many attendees to take copious notes, panelists from across the medical industry answered some of the Tristate's most pressing concerns and took questions from the audience.
Changing Face of Medicine

In the wake of national healthcare reform, new career options and an onslaught of technology, the medical field today looks different than it ever has. Already at the forefront of medicine, Cincinnati could lead the country in adapting to these changes.

A significant change may come with the concept of "medical homes," which are medical practices that provide accessible, preventive care. The medical homes will focus on easily available appointments and preventing chronic diseases, as well as treating patients holistically, rather than on a problem-by-problem basis.

"We have to reverse the practice of separating physical and mental health," says Dr. Robert Graham, professor of family medicine at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine. "Many people have a combination of emotional and physical problems, so they're going to different places to treat them, and that doesn't work well. That's a huge benefit of the medical home."

All panelists agreed that alternative medicine will grow over the next few years, as Americans already pay $35 million per year out of pocket for it. As hospitals start to offer more treatments and insurance companies pay for more of them, alternative medicine will become increasingly mainstream. Still, Graham cautions, patients must be wary of "magic solutions."

Technology is perhaps the most rapidly advancing aspect of medicine. "It gives patients access to information that allows them to participate in that care dynamic," says Maria Ortega, managing director of the Cincinnati Business Unit of Quest Diagnostics Incorporated. It won't be long before patients will be able to access their charts, medication information and test results from their computers and smartphones. And so far, it seems like many doctors are on board.

"Of every doctor I've ever talked to, none of them went to college to study IT,"
Graham says, but they embrace the
technology that serves patients. "I see physicians sitting around the table saying, "¢How do we improve?'"

But the changing field is not without its problems. "We're facing a manpower shortage over the next decade. It can keep you up at night and give you grey hairs," Urban laments. To plug the leak of talent, he says the medical community will have to ensure that local high schools and colleges have adequate training programs.

The combination of this healthcare job training along with advancing technology will most likely result in new jobs that have never existed. There will literally be types of jobs created tomorrow that weren't available yesterday, Urban points out.

Redefining Health

What is "healthy?"

The definition continues to evolve. Many physicians have worked in a sickness-based care model, treating what was presented to them. In the next few years, however, care is expected to be based increasingly on disease prevention.

For employers, this could mean a different approach in the workplace. "As employers have brought in smoking prevention and healthcare information, they have had great results," says Thomas M. Finn, president of global health care for Procter & Gamble. "Since implementation, they have reduced hospitalization by 12 percent. This is the approach all employers will move to."

But increasing awareness doesn't necessarily mean raising costs, Ortega explains. "To control costs, you have to control the outcome. You have to have the gym, the smoking cessation, to get employees to be cognizant of health and the cost outcome of that," she says.

Cost-effective options aren't hard to find in the Tristate area, echoes Dr. Derek van Amerongen, vice president and chief medical officer for Humana Health Plans of Ohio in Cincinnati, who served as the moderator at the Healthcare Summit. He says hospitals and insurance companies have health programs and health risk assessments available, often at no cost to companies.

Presented with one final question, the panelists were asked what the top impacts would be on medicine in 2014 "” the year national healthcare reform is set to take full effect. Urban reemphasized that the goal would be to keep patients out of the hospital; Ortega cited technology expansion, personalized medicine and challenges in reimbursement; Finn, while unsure healthcare reform will actually be enacted, suspects the focus will shift from cost-management to outcome-management.

In a country where uncertainty blankets the medical community, answers from top professionals at events such as the Healthcare Summit are beneficial to healthcare consumers. Though nothing is written in stone, it seems the Tristate, with its Pill Hill institutions and burgeoning suburban hospitals, is poised to be a leader in the new face of health care. -