The Antidote

Counterspin for Health Care and Health News

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Health care quality needs a sugar daddy, too

I read a news story today about a huge private infusion of cash, $100 million from Microsoft mogul Paul Allen, towards mapping the thousands of genes that encode the mouse brain, and I felt a pang. It reminded me of this lament about environmental conservation priorities:

"Nobody cares when habitat dies, 'cause habitat doesn't have big brown eyes."

Let me say straight off that I have no doubt that genetic mouse-brain mapping is important and I'm sure there is considerable untapped potential there against neurological diseases, somewhere down the road (and yes, there will be a road, if only because - lest we forget - mice are not people). Microsoft mogul Paul Allen seems to be a "gee whiz" kind of science aficionado, but I wish he'd take a moment to look deeply into the big brown eyes of another health research arena that's just crying out for someone like him: health care quality research.

Some background: the U.S. has the most expensive health care in the world (Reinhardt et al., 2002), but the health care we actually receive lacks quality on a whole-population basis (Crossing the Quality Chasm). A crucial gap appears to lie in the translation from established clinical knowledge into medicine as it's actually practiced. (Hint: it's the systems...) Dr. Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University summed up the issues nicely in a recent Washington Post editorial. Here's one key example Dr. Woolf offers:

Last year, Congress gave $29 billion to the National Institutes of Health, most of it to devise better treatments. The smaller federal agency responsible for solving problems with the delivery of health care, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), received only $320 million.

Health care quality and the issues it comprises - e.g., patient safety, health disparities, health care efficiency - seem to suffer from the same perceived lack of cuteness/sexiness/accessibility as habitat when it comes to public - and private - funding and priorities. As health care costs escalate, the need to address the quality gap becomes that much more urgent. Where's the love, all you do-gooder moguls out there?


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