Doctors should be captain of the ship
Dr. Robert Wah is the new president of the American Medical Association.
He serves as chief medical officer for Computer Sciences Corp. and teaches at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health. He served as the first deputy national coordinator in HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Wah has appeared on Modern Healthcare’s list of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives and Leaders five times. Modern Healthcare staff recently interviewed him. This is an edited transcript.
Modern Healthcare: What happened with this year’s effort to repeal the Medicare sustainable growth-rate formula?
Dr. Robert Wah: We were very optimistic. We had both the Senate and the House working on this, and we had bipartisan support. At the last minute, Congress did a very unusual voice vote to pass the 17th patch on this problem. We’re hoping that at the end of the year we’ll be able to take that bicameral, bipartisan work and push it across the finish line.
MH: What is your vision for the use of health IT?
Wah: We see technology as a tool that will help us take better care of our patients, and this has to be physicianled. We did a survey last fall asking practices what are the frustrating things about the practice today, and electronic health records were high on that list. They wanted it to work better with the workflow in their office and help them, not hinder them, in taking care of their patients. We’re going to go to the EHR vendors and tell them about the problems we found.
MH: You mentioned that Dr. Leonard McCoy of “Star Trek” had a big influence on you.
Wah: Dr. McCoy was a simple country doctor on a 23rd century starship. As we’re surrounded by all the technology today, we need to not get distracted by that technology and remember the core is the doctorpatient relationship.
MH: Why has the AMA seen three straight years of increased membership after a long period of declines?
Wah: With all the changes in healthcare, physicians are realizing that we must come together to stand up against all those forces that are coming against us.
MH: What is the AMA trying to accomplish in medical education?
Wah: We think it’s time to review the fact that medical school advancement is based on time as opposed to competency. In graduate medical education, when residents demonstrate competency they move to the next level. So we’re just talking about doing that same thing in medical school. That might free up room in the curriculum to do things like train our medical students more about team-based care.
MH: Will continuing disagreements over Obamacare within the AMA affect the association’s effectiveness as a lobbying organization?
Wah: I think physicians within the AMA have a wide spectrum of positions very similar to the rest of society.
MH: Does the primary election defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have any implications for healthcare legislation?
Wah: Certainly the primary results would say that there’s going to be a change and we’ll see how that plays out in the general election.
MH: What is the AMA going to do about states that have relaxed the rules for physician supervision of nurse practitioners?
Wah: We believe in many cases a team-based system of care improves care for our patients. Based on our years of experience and expertise, I think it makes logical sense for physicians to be leaders of the team. The captain of the ship model is one that many of our patients expect us to have.
MH: How would you describe the mood of American doctors right now?
Wah: We’re in a time of change and uncertainty, and certainly some people respond to change and uncertainty with unease and anxiety. I believe if we use the current environment of change to the benefit of our physicians and our patients, we’ll make a lot of progress. But I do recognize there’s a high level of frustration and anxiety out there.