Nov 24 2014
The Tennessean | November 24, 2014
By Bill Frist
In traveling the country I love to brag on Nashville as the "Silicon Valley" of health services. And that's not an affectionate epithet — it's true.
The Nashville health-care industry contributes $30 billion locally and $70 billion globally. With this amount of health-care dollars in Nashville, and with Nashville as a rising "it" city, one would expect to see a reflection in the health of Nashville. But this is simply not the case.
Currently, Tennessee holds the ignoble distinction of being one of the unhealthiest states in the union: 42nd out of 50. And Nashville/Davidson County specifically ranks 13th out of Tennessee's 95 counties, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy County Rankings.
Davidson County is also not competing with our peer cities. Compared with Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, Nashville ranks fourth among the five, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin. Specifically, Nashville has the worst rates of obesity, children living in poverty, children living in single-parent homes, premature death, injury deaths and violent crime of all five cities.
Poor health carries a cost, and the price of inaction over the next decade will cost us at least $10 billion.
We absolutely have to do something about this.
In taking a closer look at the $70 billion in health-care dollars coming out of Nashville, we see that it comes from the work product of more than 250 health-care companies operating in Nashville and working on a multistate, national and international basis. Nashville is also home to more than 300 additional professional service firms (e.g. accounting, architecture, finance, legal) working in the "peri health care" space. Of these corporations, more than 260 of them are members of the Nashville Health Care Council, which is also something unique. This nonprofit organization holds together a coalition of the most powerful names in health care.
We are sitting on a powerhouse of health-care resources and dollars. So how did this happen to us?
We know that health care does not equal health, and 80 percent of how healthy we are depends on social determinants like local environment, education, diet and culture. For example, 72 percent of Davidson County Metro public schoolchildren suffer from economic disadvantages. We may be succeeding in these large business arenas, but the well-being of our population is not following.
If we consider actual health-care dollars spent on avoidable illness and loss of productivity of our workforce — either because they are sick or are caring for an ill loved one — the price of an unhealthy community over the next decade will cost us at least $10 billion, and maybe as much as $20 billion. It will be more expensive to live and raise families here, and more expensive for employers to build here or even continue to stay here. Inaction will result in lost jobs over time, a stagnation of our economic market, rising unemployment and a rising cost of health care for our population.
If we want to build a thriving and successful city and state, this has to change, because the health of our workforce and citizenry are paramount to the success of the region.
The good news is there is something we can do.
Already in Nashville there are public health champions doing incredible work every day. But our city is large and our problems complicated. No one organization working alone or even with a few others is capable of the scale of change we need to reset the trajectory of our city. But together we can do this work. We must organize as a citywide collaborative, leveraging the relationships we already have and the dollars we know are here. This way we can attack the problems from multiple angles, focus resources on the neediest areas and, in making these changes, save the city millions of dollars over the next decade.
In my opinion, this is the most important thing we can do for our city and our state right now and for the next 10 years. If we truly want to ensure Nashville stays an "it" city for years to come, and more importantly remains the place we all love and want to raise our families, we have no choice.
William H. Frist, M.D is a nationally acclaimed heart and lung transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate majority leader, and chairman of the executive board of the health service private equity firm Cressey & Company.
Nov 21 2014
November 12, 2014
When crisis strikes, the world looks to the United States for leadership. And that holds true for public health emergencies.
As the Ebola epidemic takes its toll in West Africa, we are witnessing our exceptional national character in action.
Thousands of Americans — civilian, military and private citizens — are selflessly deploying to the front lines in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. They are working to halt the virus’ spread, save lives and keep us safe at home. Unsurprisingly, no country is doing more; this is the spirit, the can-do ethos that sets our country apart and makes us the indispensable nation.
Even while the virus rages on, we are seeing glimmers of hope. In Liberia, where the U.S. response has been concentrated, some counties have experienced fewer cases, just as the transmission rate appears to be slowing. But now is not the time for complacency; we saw similarly hopeful signs earlier this year, only to realize they were illusory when the virus roared back, ultimately invading Liberia’s largest city and capital, Monrovia. All the while, Sierra Leone and Guinea today remain in the throes of the outbreak.
That is why it is critically important for the United States to remain on offense. To this end, the Obama administration last week requested $6.2 billion in emergency funding from Congress for the Ebola response.
This request supports what we know we must do to counter this disease: tackle it on the front lines, fortify our domestic health infrastructure, pursue vaccines and therapeutics and improve our capacity for rapid diagnostic testing, among other key steps.
Some of these funds would be spent at home, while part would go toward the international response. But to be clear, every single dollar would help protect the American people from this threat, which must remain the priority.
Some have urged for the imposition of a travel ban to protect against additional Ebola cases reaching our shores. As a doctor, however, I know that our strategy must be guided by science. And as a former U.S. senator, I strongly believe we must not institute policies chock full of unintended consequences. A travel ban would run afoul of both principles.
As a practical matter, there are no direct flights between the United States and West Africa. And approximately two-thirds of those traveling from the region to the United States are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Impeding their access to this country — their country — would upend the Constitution in the name of fortifying against a threat that has claimed exactly, though sadly, one life on U.S. soil.
Experience also tells us that a travel ban would make us only more vulnerable. Travelers from the region, regardless of nationality, are subject to stringent screening protocols in West Africa, at many transit points in Europe and again upon landing in the United States. Any ban would incentivize would-be travelers to mask their point of origin, take irregular travel routes and evade the robust screening measures now in place.
The Obama administration has made this argument, but this is not a partisan finding. The administration of George W. Bush — during whose time in office I served as the Republican Senate majority leader — also deemed travel bans to be ineffective in the face of communicable disease. This is about sound science and smart policy, not politics.
All the while, we know the most effective way to protect the American people is to extinguish this fire at its source. The U.S. military is playing a major role in doing so, but the U.S. and international response must appropriately remain civilian-led.
Since the first Ebola cases were reported last spring, hundreds of American health care workers have heeded the call to serve in West Africa. And we will need many more to follow in their footsteps in order to control this epidemic.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years personally delivering medical and surgical care throughout Africa. So I agree with President Obama when he commends those doing what he termed “God’s work” in West Africa. To be sure, we owe them our collective gratitude. But we also must not deny them the support and backing they need to fulfill their mission, to protect the American people and to keep themselves safe.
The axiom holds true that we must isolate Ebola, not countries. And the dedicated and brave Americans who serve on the front lines will be key to helping us do so.
William "Bill" H. Frist, M.D. is an American physician, businessman, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee and the former Republican majority leader in the U.S. He is the chairman of global health non-profit Hope Through Healing Hands.
by Jen Todd, [email protected]
November 9, 2014
Doctors, professors and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist invite the public to discuss the base of worldwide fear: Ebola.
“Ebola is a modern plague, which sorely tests U.S. leadership at multiple points,” said J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a statement. “It requires grappling with considerable unknowns, and preserving the confidence, trust and support of the American people.”
The two along with William Schaffner, professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Sten H. Vermund, director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, will begin the conversation, addressing four points.
These subjects are: the U.S. approach to cases entering the United States, the mobilization in Liberia, the growth of the epidemic in West Africa and how to stop transmission, and efforts to develop new vaccines and treatments.
Then, Muktar Aliyu, associate director for research for the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, and James E. Crowe, Jr., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, will jump in to consider what changes need to be made in the U.S. approaches, both short and long-term.
The free event is open to the public and begins at 10 a.m. Nov. 21 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Light Hall Room 208, 2215 Garland Ave.
By Bill Frist and Jenny Eaton Dyer Nov. 5, 2014, 6:20 p.m.
With the advent of the few Ebola cases that have emerged in the U.S., Americans and the global community can and should turn their attention to the plight of fragile health care infrastructure in poor countries. This outbreak is a stark reminder that our own health and prosperity is directly linked to that of the developing world. Foreign aid is a catalyst for building healthier families and communities — and in turn, helping our own.
Too often, health systems in poor countries are ill equipped to handle public health crises, or even provide basic primary health care services including, immunizations for children; the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria; and other life-saving interventions such as access to contraceptives.
The Ebola crisis is showing us once again how critical it is to invest in functioning public health systems in developing nations, so they are able to increase access to the information and tools people need to protect their own health and the health of their loved ones. Importantly, these systems must be designed to reach and meet the needs of women and girls.
Two years ago, leaders from around the world came together to commit to an ambitious goal: By 2020, 120 million more women and girls in the world’s poorest countries would have access to the information and tools they need to make the best decisions, harmonious with their values and beliefs, in planning their families.
We are already seeing results. Today, Family Planning 2020 — the movement that carries this global effort forward — launched its second annual report on progress made toward this goal.
In 2013, more than 8.4 million additional women and girls had access to contraceptives compared to 2012, across 69 of the world’s poorest countries. Access to contraceptives averted an estimated 77 million unintended pregnancies. And the lives of more than 125,000 women and girls were saved from complications related to unintended pregnancies.
Hope Through Healing Hands partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation one year ago to champion a spectrum of issues related to maternal, newborn and child health, with a special emphasis on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, or international family planning. If women have access to an array of contraceptive methods, including fertility awareness, we can save and improve the lives of millions.
Nearly 1 in 39 women die in Africa from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, making it a leading cause of preventable death. Yet if women can better time their pregnancies between the ages of 18 and 24, they can exponentially affect their chances of survival. For instance, women who give birth between the ages of 20 and 24 are 10 to 14 times more likely to survive than those who have babies when they are younger. And by giving women the means to space the births of their children by at least three years, newborns would be twice as likely to survive their first year. We could drastically reduce maternal and infant mortality with better access to information and services for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
With a focus on the mother-child orbit of health, we cut to the nexus of global health challenges to address extreme poverty, access to education, gender equality and infectious disease. Economically, healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, and access to contraceptives, is one of the best investments a country can make in its future. Contraceptives are cost-effective and deliver big savings in health care costs and social programs. For each U.S. dollar spent on helping women plan their families, governments can save up to $6 on health, housing, water, and other public services.
The Ebola outbreak is a tragedy and has already claimed the lives of thousands. It will take serious intervention to stop its further spread and interrupt transmission. As we consider how best to respond, let’s also consider how best to strengthen the infrastructure of health systems in poor countries, and how to provide simple interventions, like family planning, to save the lives of millions of mothers and children around the world.
Bill Frist, M.D., is a former senator from Tennessee. Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is the executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands.
Forbes | November 1, 2014
By Bill Frist
Imagine waking up with a fever and nausea in West Africa. You would probably be equal parts curious about the cause of your symptoms, and terrified that it might be fatal. Ebola is actually the least likely cause of your fever, unless of course you had been exposed to a known Ebola case. Malaria is a much more likely cause of your fever, and now that the summer months are approaching, Lassa Fever, another type of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever, is becoming more prevalent.
You go to the local “clinic” and healthcare workers there isolate you. They draw blood and send it to a nearby city for testing. It will take days for the results to come back. You are considered Ebola positive until proven otherwise. Until then, you are put in containment with other febrile patients–some probably with Ebola. There is no space. You are crammed in with other sick patients and isolated from your family. You may feel O.K. compared to these patients, some of whom are potentially deathly ill. If you do not have Ebola now, will you have it by the time your waiting period is done?
Now imagine an alternative reality.
You wake up with the same fever and nausea. You go to a designated diagnostic site, likely the same clinic, and your finger is pricked or a small vial of blood is drawn by a trained healthcare worker. You are asked to wait in a holding room for up to three hours, but no more. Everyone in the room with you is about as sick as you are and waiting quietly and calmly. In a few hours, you have an answer: You have Lassa or Malaria or another febrile illness, or you have Ebola. From there you are triaged appropriately to the best treatment, maybe released with anti-malarial medications or other treatment.
In West Africa today, a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) would be a complete game changer. Identifying infected individuals quickly means the best use of resources, quick institution of appropriate treatment, reduced risk for spread of infection, and decrease in public panic and fear.
On October 25 the FDA approved two tests from BioFire Defense that can produce a diagnosis in two hours compared with current polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods that generally take four hours. The new tests use patented “FilmArray” technology to identify the virus quickly.
While this is definitely a step in the right direction, it is still not the ideal solution. First, BioFire’s FilmArray tests still require someone to draw an entire tube of blood and inactivate the virus, which is dangerous. Second, the testing instrument can only process one sample at a time. One machine can process 24 tests a day, while PCR tests can run up to 70 tests a day even though they take four hours. Third, the cost is almost prohibitive. The new test instrument costs $39,000 and each test is $189 dollars. Considering multiple devices are needed, and that PCR is relatively cheap, the cost benefit analysis needs to be considered.
This is not to say I am not encouraged by the possible impact of the BioFire technology. I am especially pleased the FDA accelerated approval. But we cannot stop here.
The ideal RDT would be a quick, field-ready test, with results available within hours at a very low cost. It would not require large blood samples, would have a high sensitivity and specificity, and may even be able to detect viral RNA before a patient becomes symptomatic—at very low concentrations—to avoid lengthy quarantines.
Several groups have reached out to me to let me know that they are working to develop such a test. Promising development it happening! When these criteria are met, it will be possible to test in a maximally effective, decentralized, and distributed way.
Until then the wisest course is a coordinated containment strategy for real exposures. The only people that have contracted Ebola in the U.S. have been healthcare workers exposed to the bodily secretions of infected patients late in the disease progression. Our focus should be on people who are truly likely to have been infected. And the treatment strategy should leverage the specific hospitals that are trained in managing diseases like Ebola.
It is hubris to think just anyone in healthcare can take care of Ebola patients and properly contain it. We have to respect the virus. But that does not mean mass hysteria, wide spread travel bans or even airport quarantines. We have to remember the science behind Ebola. It is infectious but not very contagious. It requires that bodily secretions contact mucous membranes.
While mistakes have been made in identifying and containing this outbreak, we must recognize we are fighting a disease and not each other. What we learn as we contain Ebola can be applied to infectious disease challenges in the future—both globally and at home. Today, one out of every 25 people admitted to the hospital in the U.S. acquires an infection and more than 5,000 people die of those infections each month. Early detection of infections in the hospital setting can reduce spread and save lives.
Doing thing right on Ebola will become the standard for how in the future we treat all infectious diseases. We need to keep working to get it right—to make the ideal a reality.