I’ve been all over ever’where so far this year, invited to participate in a number of events that, taken together, seem to indicate there’s some progress being made on “healthcare system transformation,” even if it’s still happening at a glacial pace. One of these events was the Starfield Summit, put together by the Robert Graham Center, which is the policy think-tank arm of the American Academy of Family Physicians. I fielded an invite when the Graham Center reached out to the Lown Institute to ask if there was a patient-type human who might lend something to the conversation as an attendee.

So I took the “let patients help” rallying cry to DC for a couple days of lock-in with a bunch of primary care docs and the wonks who love them. Which, by the way, includes me, which you know if you’ve been paying attention. Primary care docs are the ideal partners for people/patients who are working to shift the USS Medical Industrial Complex aircraft carrier – both primary care MDs and patients are low on the medical-industrial complex power pole, so if we team up, we might be able to boost each other up to start showing up on the power radar.

If you’d like a good overview of the importance and impact of primary care on a health system, something that Ben Miller shared on the first day is a great précis. Money quote from the conclusion, IMO:

Primary care is imperative for building a strong healthcare system that ensures positive health outcomes, effectiveness and efficiency, and health equity. It is the first contact in a healthcare system for individuals […]. It provides individual and family-focused and community-oriented care for preventing, curing or alleviating common illnesses and disabilities, and promoting health. tweet

What I heard, saw, and discussed over the two days tells me that a power amplification is not fully “there” yet, but it’s building. My ticket to the party is one indicator, the other is that I made it clear during my time there that I brought a penetrating view of the system as it is, the system as it could be, and how we might work together – primary care clinicians and people/patients – to turn our aircraft carrier away from grounding on the rocks of “sucks up 47 times its weight in GDP” economic disaster. Oh, and not kill folks in the process, since that’s also a good goal, right? Quality, lower cost, satisfied patients, satisfied *providers* – the quadruple aim that AAFP itself codified a few years ago.

The format of the event was refreshing – there was the usual “sit in a big room, listen to wonks, watch slide decks” stuff, but that was broken up over the two days by what I’ll call “working group breakouts” where we assembled in small groups, in separate rooms, to wrestle the Big Ideas under discussion, which were:


Just a small topic, since it’s the core of everything, right? Primary care IS healthcare, but primary care clinicians are paid much lower reimbursement rates than, say, cardiac surgeons (thanks to the RUC, who make sure the *specialty* MDs get the big bucks re reimbursement), primary MDs/NPs/RNs have low-on-the-pole status when it comes to $$. And $$ = power in most cultures, including ours. My key takeaways from that segment of the session, which tackled

  1. Payment, measurement, and the primary care paradox
  2. What does effective primary care look like?
  3. Disruptive innovations in primary care payment
  4. Primary care payment, social determinants, and community risk

can be summed up in one statement from my breakouts, “we have internalized the oppressor.” This tweet also sums up the discussion pretty well.

Lunch featured a keynote by Shannon Brownlee of the Lown Institute. Ben Miller captured the essence here:

Next on the Big Ideas discussion list was the metrics of primary care. Specifically:

  1. Measuring primary care: lessons from the UK quality outcomes framework
  2. Payment reform, performance measurement, and delivery system transformation
  3. Measuring the three Cs: comprehensiveness, continuity, and coordination
  4. Payment and measurement innovations in the primary care of children

My takeaways from the 3+ hours we spent wrestling those ideas and input can be summed up with:

  • Embracing the concept of a Learning Health System is the only way forward (next time, they must invite Josh Rubin to the party!)
  • Without the community fully embedded in the creation and governance of a healthcare system, you’re measuring the wrong stuff
  • Adding health literacy – “how my body works” and “how doctors/nurses/care workers can help me” – to K-12 education HAS. TO. HAPPEN.
  • We have to stop admiring the problem and start actually CHANGING the system

Core issue? This:

Day 2 kicked off with an examination of how primary care teams can impact the success or failure of a system of care. The pieces of that puzzle:

  1. Innovations in primary care teams
  2. Linking primary care, public health, and the community
  3. Integrated teams (primary care + mental health)
  4. Training a diverse primary care team

My time on the board of Virginia Supportive Housing (2004 – 2010) gave me a close-up view of the power of the “housing first” model in health/mental health care in an underserved population, and the exponential impact that addressing the social determinants of health has on the actual health of an individual, and therefore that person’s community at large. Help someone get off the street – “housing first” – and provide them with wraparound services, including basic healthcare, and magic happens. Yeah, it’s complicated, but as Winston Liaw said in his welcome on Day 2:

My takeaway from that morning round of robust discussion lined up as:

  • Effective teaming will take agitation from the lower depths (citizens, community health workers) to shake up status quo
  • A shared leadership model has to emerge, one that includes PEOPLE (the ones called “patients) in system leader positions
  • “It takes time” can’t supersede the desperate need for rapid-cycle change in the healthcare system (stop admiring the problem!)
  • Until healthcare includes mental health, full-stop, we’ll be stuck in cycling #fail

The afternoon sessions tackled:

  1. Building primary care teams
  2. Advancing teamwork between the medical home and the medical neighborhood
  3. Shifting culture of primary care teams
  4. Statewide innovations in primary care payment

My favorite quick-hit presentation from that set was Andrew Morris-Singer from Primary Care Progress, who said, among many other things, that

On the topic of building primary care teams, he said this:

That one in the lower right – “trust” – is bedrock. Without trust, none of this will happen, and trust only happens when you have face-time to build a relationship. That’s true inside the medical team, and double-true when you’re talking care team/community relationship building.

Primary + People/Patients = Winning?