Health IT, Events

What former VP Joe Biden would like to say about our healthcare system but can’t

In his second successive appearance at the annual StartUp Health Festival in San Francisco, Tuesday, Biden expresses anger, frustration, grief but also hope about the healthcare system.

For the second year in a row, former VP Joe Biden came to the StartUp Health Festival during J.P. Morgan Week in San Francisco and made an impassioned plea for change.

On Tuesday, he asked for the change that would bring what he described as an antiquated health system into the modern era where the scourge of cancer has been wiped out, where data flows unrestricted and where collaboration is the order of the day.

Sponsored Post

Physician Targeting Using Real-time Data: How PurpleLab’s Alerts Can Help

By leveraging real-time data that offers unprecedented insights into physician behavior and patient outcomes, companies can gain a competitive advantage with prescribers. PurpleLab®, a healthcare analytics platform with one of the largest medical and pharmaceutical claims databases in the United States, recently announced the launch of Alerts which translates complex information into actionable insights, empowering companies to identify the right physicians to target, determine the most effective marketing strategies and ultimately improve patient care.

As one who has endured a surfeit of loss in his life — the latest of which was the untimely passing of his 46-year-old son, Beau, in May 2015 — it was no surprise that Biden brought the room to tears. And shed some himself. [So did I – I lost my 44-year-old brother to Stage 4 kidney cancer a mere two months ago, and Biden’s emphasis on finding purpose to be able to live each day struck a chord.]

But aside from the grief, his plea for change comes also from a palpable sense anger and frustration at how broken the healthcare system truly is. Biden shared a story about the lack of data fluidity, a story he shared last year.

But this year, he listed a litany of things — peppered through his 90-minute address and brief on-stage interview at the conference — that he wished he could say about the nation’s healthcare apparatus, but just can’t.

The list is notable for the breadth of what Biden’s vision is for a healthcare system that works for all. Here is that list. It speaks for itself.

  • I’d like to be able to say that the affordability of cancer treatment is getting better and not worse, but I can’t. It’s getting worse.
  • I’d like to say that there are widely distributed applied techniques and mechanisms to share data among researchers, clinicians, and patients, but I can’t.
  • I’d like to be able to say that a cancer diagnosis in St. Louis is seconded by another doctor in Memphis in the case of a patient who moved or seeks for a second opinion, but I can’t say that. I heard of a physician who said that because of a lack of uniform standards that exist in taking biopsies, they would not trust a pathology report from another institution let alone in their own hospital.
  • I’d like to be able to say that since there was the idea that Barack [Obama] and I had when we did the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] where we put in $35 billion because we were told that what would save money and improve outcomes was electronic medical recordkeeping that could be instantaneously shared. Five companies came up and got $6 billion apiece. They can’t talk to one another. It’s all siloed.
  • I’d like to say that your doctor in Bemidji, Minnesota has all the tools needed to take care of a cancer he may have just diagnosed … just as a doctor from Dana Farber, Sloan Kettering or MD Anderson, but I can’t say that.
  • I’d like to say that people in every zip code are getting tested for detectable cancers before they progress to the fatal degree, but I can’t.
  • I’d like to say that that government will be able to quickly modernize our approach to funding research that prioritizes progress, not credit, but I can’t.

But amidst the anger and frustration, hope springs eternal. In that spirit, Biden painted a glorious future ahead if true collaboration is achieved.

  • I see the day when medicine is more effective when each and every community has access to it so that no one dies from treatable cancers that were discovered much too late. It’s within our grasp, it’s real.
  • I see the day when those of you in the room take your children or grandchildren to their pre-school physical where they will be vaccinated against certain cancers, just the way they are vaccinated against the HPV now. [Human Papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer, penile cancers among other cancers] now. That’s on the horizon.
  • I see the day when we can identify through markers in the blood, cancers that haven’t yet developed.
  • I see the day when care is personalized and more effective with less harmful side effects.
  • I see the day we understand why an immunotherapy drug works for one patient but not another.
  • I see the day when patients don’t have to decide between keeping their home and affording life-saving treatment.
  • I see the day when cancer survivors have few long-term side effects.

“There is so much hope and promise, but we aren’t there yet,” Biden said.

Photo: MANDEL NGAN,AFP/Getty Images