National Harbor, Md. (WUSA9) -- Dr. Robert Pearl heads up the Permanente Medical Group with 7,000 physicians taking care of 4 million Kaiser Permanente health plan members.
He was part of an expert panel moderated by WUSA9's Anita Brikman today at the World Health Care Congress. The meeting at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center brought hundreds of policy and decision makers together to talk about how to transform healthcare systems in the future to make them better, more efficient and less costly.
Dr. Arthur Garson, Director of the Center for Health Policy at the University of Virginia, was another panelist on changing the healthcare workforce. He says one way to do that is to allow nurse practitioners to take on more primary care responsibilities. To train more aides who can interact with patients, both over the phone and in their homes.
A program he launched called "Grand-Aides" seeks people with the patience and temperment of a grandparent (no matter what their age), and trains them to help patients follow their prescribed treatments once they leave the hospital and better manage chronic diseases.
Dr. Garson says, "The idea is to take the people, the physicians and nurses, and only have them do what they have to do, not what they are doing now. Doctors are doing a whole bunch of things nurses can do. Nurses are doing a whole bunch of things others can do."
Dr. Pearl says technology can also make a big impact in cutting down on waiting times for care, and unnecessary visits. But he says you have to have doctors willing to be in contact with patients, more than on a Monday through Friday, office hours basis.
"The ability to be able to use secure messaging, secure email to physicians and not have to come to the office. Video, the opportunity to have video visits," adds Dr. Pearl.
Both men say we have too many specialists and too many hospitals doing the same surgeries and procedures, and we need to focus more on preventing diseases that make people sick in the first place.
Dr. Pearl says, "We can diagnose sooner, treat sooner, get patients better sooner."