May 15, 2013

Hospital executive urges radical health care reform

Reginald M. Ballantyne
Robert Barker/University Photography
Reginald M. Ballantyne III, MBA '67, discusses health care reform on campus May 4.

Recognizing patients’ humanity, coordinating a fragmented system and overcoming political ideology are all key steps to improving America’s health care system, Reginald M. Ballantyne III, MBA ’67, told about 120 students, faculty, staff and alumni of Cornell’s Sloan Program in Health Administration May 4.

Ballantyne, senior corporate officer of Vanguard Health Systems, an owner and operator of hospitals across the United States, delivered his keynote remarks at the program’s annual Wagner Memorial Dinner as part of Sloan Alumni Reunion Weekend on campus.

Drawing on 40 years experience as a health care executive, including as former chair of the American Hospital Association, Ballantyne said hospitals and medical providers need to restore the human touch to health care. He warned that technology, while able to boost our knowledge and efficiency, also creates a barrier between caregivers and patients.

Ballantyne pointed out that physicians, on average, spend 15 minutes with a patient per visit – time that is often interrupted by doctors using their laptops, diminishing the likelihood of a personal connection. He said these divides appear throughout the system, where patients are likely to be first greeted by a receptionist behind a computer screen asking for proof of insurance.

“See the person, not the diagnosis,” Ballantyne advised, adding “… push back against the tide that is making us present only virtually.”

Ballantyne called for new approaches to solve systemic fragmentation that is driving costs up and degrading the quality of care. He cited a recent Journal of the American Medical Association finding that almost four in 10 patients on return visits to their primary care provider had been misdiagnosed. He blamed poor coordination of medical records and highly varying cost structures for mistakes by caregivers and frustrations for patients.

“Radical new thinking is needed to harness the power of competition so that it leads to improvement and coordination instead of increased fragmentation,” he said.

Finally, he said, health care executives cannot afford to sit out the political debate about health care reform in the United States. He argued for “sensible, rational conversation” unclouded by partisan politics or emotion.

“We need to be continually involved in the debate about what we want health care to be in America and more specifically what is sustainable, humane, compassionate and sane,” he said. He urged Sloan students to get involved in the political conversation, otherwise “politicians will, in fact, get to decide.”

Other events during the Sloan reunion weekend included a tour of the program’s new offices being installed in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, a networking breakfast for alumni and students, and student research presentations.

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.