The Aspen Health Forum just gathered an impressive group of around 250 people to discuss the most pressing issues in Health and Medical Science.
1- Global health problems require the attention of the scientific community. Richard Klausner encouraged the scientific community to focus on Global Problems: maternal mortality rates, HIV/ AIDS, clean water, cancer…
2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ireland, a Catholic country. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ideology kills..we need more empathy with reality, and to work with local women in those countries.” This session included a fascinating exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audience to defend the role of US aid, explaining how 60% of retroviral drugs in African countries have been funded by the American taxpayer. Which made Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Agre, also in the audience, stand up and encourage the US to really step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a number of European countries do, instead of 0.1%.
3- Where is the new “Sputnik”?: Many of the speakers had been inspired by the Sputnik and the Apollo missions to become scientists. Two Nobel Prize Laureates talked about their lives and careers trying to demystify what it takes to be a scientist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grateful to the taxpayers dollars that funded their research, and insist we must do a better job at explaining the scientific process to society at large. Both are proud of having attended small liberal arts colleges, and having evolved from there, fueled by their great curiosity and unpredictable, serendipitous paths, into launching new scientific and medical fields.
4- We need a true Health Care Culture: Mark Ganz summarized it best by explaining how his health provider group improved care when they redefined themselves from “we are 7,000 employees” to “we are a 3 million strong community”, moving from being a cost controller with a paternalistic attitude to a health facilitator, looking underneath symptoms to identify and deal with underlying patterns.
5- You can’t manage what you can’t measure. We heard many times how defining and measuring outcomes, so common in the private sector, is critical to ensuring a good allocation of resources in the health and scientific fields, that use so much taxpayer money. For example. NIH funding grew from $9B in 1994 to $29B in 2007, yet the results are not clear. The same happened with health care as a whole, a sector that now consumes 16% of the US GDP with health outcomes (infant mortality, patient deaths in hospitals) worse than other countries that invest far less.
6- The rising role of public-private partnerships: There are multiple initiatives launched to bridge the increasing gap between academia and industry. The Foundation for the NIH has facilitated key conversation between the FDA and pharma companies. The Gates and Clinton Foundations have launched innovative partnership models to tackle global health problems.
7- From Lifespan to Health-span. Population distribution in developed countries is shifting from a “population pyramid” to a “population rectangle”. The point of much ongoing research is not “how to spend more time on the nursing home” but how to slow down the process of aging, so we can live healthier longer.
8- Patient-advocacy groups are having an impact. We heard many examples on how small groups of motivated individuals have built large patient advocate movements that influence public policy. Michael Milken talked about the Cancer March, that helped increase NIH funding from $1.5B to 5$B. Hala Moddelmog, from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, explained how they have 1 million people engaged in promoting cancer research and prevention. Robert Klein, key advocate of the California Proposition 71 (that will provide $6B for stem cell research through long-term bonds) explained how the proposition was passed, including engaging over 80 patient-advocacy groups.
9- There’s a new emphasis on understanding “how systems work” instead of “how isolated genes make things happen on their own”: Genomics is starting to help predict susceptibility to disease and to therapies. Now, we must keep in mind the role of our experience and environment in turning some genes on or off.
10- The importance of our Lifestyle-Each of us owns our own health. 70% of heathcare costs derive from lifestyle-related diseases (such as smoking-induced cancer). We heard several calls to action for insurance companies to incentivize behavior modification to promote good lifestyle habits that improve quality of life and can delay disease symptoms, resulting in billions of dollars of cost savings.