Modern Physician is running a poll where you can go and vote for the
best looking, err…most powerful physician executive in American
health care. It’s actually quite a tricky call. For example is Tom Frist from HCA the most powerful doc because he and his family own the biggest hospital chain and have a sibling who runs the Senate? (For that matter why isn’t Bill on the list as overall he’s obviously by the far the most powerful MD in the nation even if it hasn’t got much to do with his increasingly dubious behavior when he claims to be using his medical training). Is Jack Rowe from Aetna or Bill McGuire at United Health the most powerful because everyone at one the biggest insurers has to do what they say (plus Bill’s probably got the most money!)? But maybe as the doc preaching the word of disease management at the single biggest insurer Sam Nussbaum (Wellpoint) is now the most powerful?
But then again while I don’t think Carolyn Clancy (AHQR) is that powerful, and that’s a bad thing for American health care, Mark McClellan (CMS) has got the biggest stick and seems to be prepared to use it in the interest of promoting "the right things" from Medicare in the years to come. On the other hand Don Berwick (IHI) or Jack Wennberg (Dartmouth) have probably had more influence in promoting P4P and the quality movement that McClellan’s now espousing than anyone else. Influence? For sure. Power? Well in some ways they wouldn’t have had the time they’ve had to build up their influence if they’d had the power to achieve their goals!
Maybe it’s some new fangled IT whiz who’s got the most power — readers in one poll last year called David Brailer the most powerful man in all of health care — then he didn’t even get $50m from the Congress to fund his office so I’m not convinced that he has any real power. Maybe Blackford Middleton at Partners is the most powerful, showing that real EMRs can be brought into the ivory tower (Well I met a bunch of his serfs last night and they all seemed real scared of him!!). Molly Coye is great, but for all Healthtech’s influence with the big hospitals her days of real power were back when she struck fear into the heart of Medi-Cal managed care plans (or at least would have done if they’d figured out what she was up to!).
Is Jack Lewin at the CMA (the largest state medical association) the most powerful? Hmm…you don’t hear much about Michael Maves at the AMA either for that matter.
So my vote this year for the first and last time will be for someone who’s not in the mainstream. David Graham, the FDA gadfly, is pretty much responsible for destroying Vioxx and crippling Merck, and has had a hand in causing problems for the rest of big pharma. I can’t vote for him as he’s not on the list, but Sid Wolfe shares the same views so I can vote for him and call it a team vote. That’s real power even if its effervescent and more destructive than constructive (although something constructive may yet come out of all their work).
But overall this tells me that physicians are just not that powerful in health care as big names. It’s not the star power here that counts. It’s the collective behavior of all the doctors in practice and the power they exert in decisions they make every day that still more than anything else really determines what happens in American health care.