Dr. Darrell Kirch on the Rapidly Arriving Future of Health Care

Author:  Laurel Skurko, Marketing Director, UCSF Radiology and Biomedical Imaging

“None of us -- globally -- has gotten health care right.” Those are dramatic words, uttered by one who should know, and, thankfully, one who is in a position to identify and support needed improvements.

Darrell Kirch, MD, President and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, spoke at a special session following the keynote by UCSF Department of Radiology Chair and outgoing RSNA President Ronald Arenson, MD, at the 101st meeting of the Radiology Society of North America. RSNA is consistently one of the country’s top three medical conferences, drawing nearly 55,000 attendees.  

In his talk, "Radiology, Medicine, and Healthcare: Will Inaction or Innovation Determine Our Future?" Dr. Kirch did not sugarcoat the problems facing modern health care. "There's a great transformation going on in health care around the world, and we need to take steps to prepare for this change," he said. Among the coming changes he noted:

  • increased cost-cutting pressures that affect patient care;
  • NIH funding and the education of the next generation of physicians;
  • the global shortage of physicians, due to an aging population.

He also noted that, as income from patient care and NIH funding is reduced, students are shouldering a heavier cost burden for their education.

Kirch had straight talk about problems, but he was also ready with hope-- and thoughtful solutions. Kirch suggested a two-pronged approach. First, “We need more doctors to solve the shortage,” he said. “We have not had an increase in budget to train students in the residency pipeline in the last 18 years. The physician shortage is a real issue linked to aging population.”

Second, organizations need to be open to and ready to take on change. That requires they focus on their culture to develop the skills necessary to be flexible to the changing demands of the market.

He pointed out that academic medical centers can take the lead and set good examples of cultural nimbleness. "Academic centers are indispensable, and as such can't afford complacency," he said.

We often hear the call for medical organizations to remake our internal and patient-facing operations, and move from top-down management to a culture of teams, but what does that really mean in the daily work environment? What is your institution or department doing to innovate out-of-date practices and prepare for the rapidly arriving changes in health care?  


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