Skip to main content

Experts Share Perspective on Health Care Reform’s Impact on Higher Education

On the afternoon of Jan. 20, College of Health Sciences students, faculty and staff filled the Jordan ballroom to listen to the dean, Tim Dunnagan, and the college’s Board of Ambassadors. The Board of Ambassadors supports the college in identifying strategic directions, opportunities and resources to enhance the college’s teaching and research agendas and is comprised of key health administrators primarily within Idaho, discuss health care reform and its impact on higher education in the health sciences. The interactive event was called “Health Care Reform and the Future of Higher Education.”

After a short introduction by Dunnagan, Dr. Tedd Epperly gave a short presentation on training health care providers within a health care reform environment. Epperly is recognized nationally as a family physician in Boise, Idaho where he sees patients, teaches family medicine residents, and directs the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho. He is a clinical professor of family and community medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and is a past president and chairman of the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians, which represents over 100,300 family physicians nationally. Epperly is the co-chair of the national Center on Accountable Care of the Patient Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) dedicated to transforming the United States health care system around primary care. Epperly has published over 50 articles and has given close to 1,000 lectures and media interviews nationally and internationally on medical topics, health care reform, and why reform is so important.

Epperly’s presentation discussed how health care has had the wrong focus, by focusing on disease rather than on health. This focus has led to a poor delivery model with staggering costs and (a lack of) quality problems. Health care organizations are beginning to, and should continue to, focus on the triple aim: better health, better health care process and lower costs. To keep this focus on track, future health care providers (today’s students) need to focus on population health, new technology, disease prevention, and healthy lifestyles. Additionally, this new focus needs to be integrated into all units of health care provision. Whether a person is seeking treatments for an illness or condition, advice on exercise, or a consultation on surgery, the care provided should address all aspects of health. A physician treating an illness should also talk about how to prevent illness in the future. An exercise trainer should also discuss keeping the body healthy so as not to cause injury to what is currently a functioning body part. There should no longer be siloed care: going to one doctor for this type of treatment and another building or business for another type of treatment and somewhere else for healthy lifestyle coaching.

Following Epperly’s presentation, Dunnagan moderated a question and answer session. The questions were generated by College of Health Sciences students through their coursework as well as by audience members. Epperly and a panel of members of the college’s Board of Ambassadors shared their deep understanding and numerous experiences related to health programming from payer, provider and public health orientations. The panel included Dick Armstrong (Idaho Director, Health and Welfare), Ed Dahlberg (Former CEO of St. Luke’s System), Steve Millard (Former President of Idaho Hospital Association), Chris Roth (Sr. Vice President and COO of St. Luke’s Health System), Marty Gabica (Senior Medical Officer, Healthwise), and Dave Self ( Vice President of St. Luke’s Health Partners). Three members of the Board of Ambassadors could not be present for the panel, Zelda Geyer-Sylvia (President and CEO of Blue Cross), Rodney Reider (President of Saint Alphonsus), and Maryann Reese (Boise State Distinguished Alumna and President and CEO of Saint Elizabeth Hospital, Belleville, Illinois).

Questions varied from topics about general policy effects, like how a Medicaid expansion in Idaho might affect health care and health care practitioners, to issues about insurance or legislative practices’ potential impact on specific professions. Other questions focused on how disease prevention and health promotion relate to the current health care system while others inquired about how to address the needs of underserved populations. The questions submitted before the event and during the event were too numerous and thought provoking to all be addressed during the allotted time for the panel discussion.

Many of the panel members discussed how health care providers must begin looking at patients as also being customers, incorporating elements of customer service into their practices. Armstrong stressed the need to incorporate mental health into the health care system. Because mental health is currently isolated and fragmented, many people do not receive treatment for their mental illness, which for those with severe mental illness can lead to their own death 20 to 25 years prematurely or to serious problems or even the death of others.

As evidenced by the sheer numbers and quality of the questions and the buzz of discussion at the end of the panel’s presentation , the event successfully promoted discourse among the attendees as they departed.