Is health care experience mandatory for a pharmaceutical CEO?

A persistent theme for Health Care Renewal has been how concentration and abuse of power in health care trap patients and heath care professionals in a maze of bureaucracy, perverse incentives, deception, and conflicts of interest.

To anyone who has to make the transition from person to patient, some of these problems become immediately obvious.

Consider, for example, this account of “going into a hospital for a minor procedure”:

The very idea of being a patient is anathema. To people of my generation — the ‘me’ generation — who like to be in control, the experience begins with loss of control. First the paperwork — three or four times paperwork has to filled out and given to a succession of strangers. Then they take all of your belongings, they tell you to take your clothes off, and make you put on a gown that leaves you nearly naked, put in you in very small room, bring you inedible food according to a schedule they determine.

And if you try to sleep, they leave lights on, and do everything they can to make sure you can’t. At the end, if you are lucky, they deign to discharge you. Those of us who are boomers, entering a period where we will be drawing the biggest healthcare expenditure, will not put up with this.

This description of health care in the real world may not seem surprising to readers of Health Care Renewal. When health care is run by business people with no experience or training in actual patient care, and controlled by a proliferation of managers and bureaucrats (whose numbers increased by a factor of 8.26x from 1983 to 200), usually with similar business backgrounds, all motivated by short-term financial incentives to “make the numbers” at all costs, what other result would one expect?

Of course, many people outside of health care may not appreciate these problems until they become patients themselves. The person who wrote the description above apparently had avoided in-patient hospital care until the events he described, so on that basis his surprise can be excused.  On the other hand, his outrage was understandable.

But wait — the above is actually a quote by a speech to the Innovation Forum by no other than Jeffrey Kindler, the current CEO of Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company.

So his apparent surprise at what he found when he became a patient is ample evidence how unfamiliar he had been with real health care on the ground until this experience.  In fact, that the CEO of the world’s largest drug company was so unfamiliar with the real world of health care until he had to become a patient ought to prompt some outrage too.

I am not recommending that all executives of health care organizations undergo procedures. However, making sure that no one gets to a top leadership position in a health care organization without some real world health care experience might lead to some salutary changes in how health care is run.

Also, we noted previously that Mr. Kindler had been rewarded last year by his board of directors for his “constructive participation in the US legislative process to advance Pfizer’s goals of achieving a more rational operating environment.”

Maybe had he had his minor procedure earlier, he might have also wanted to advance the goal of making health care less bureaucratic and more focused on the patients.

Roy Poses is an internal medicine physician who blogs at Health Care Renewal.

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  • http://glasshospital.com GlassHospital

    Don Berwick’s written well about how health enterprises should be transformed. Seems like a great “market opportunity” for a health enterpise/medical center to be patient-centered/customer-focused.

    The problem is that without a true market, people come to take “what they can get,” i.e. what their insurance allows. Since it’s “free,” to the patient, in some sense, there’s very little incentive to change on either side. What a mess.

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