Guest Blog – My reflections on the Lown Conference

By Charlene Gaw
3rd year medical student, Mayo Clinic
MPH candidate, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

As a medical student, my job is clear. I’m expected to study continuously about clinical diagnoses and management of conditions. I’m not rewarded for discussing health policy or learning about the dysfunctions in our health care system.

But during my third-year clinical rotations, when I started spending time with real patients, it became clear that the cost of health care and burdensome red tape were making both patients and clinicians dissatisfied. It was disheartening to see my fellow doctors unhappy, and even more so to know I was facing a similar life of billing and documentation.

“I was starting to feel my idealism and excitement for my future career in medicine fade.”

I was starting to feel my idealism and excitement for my future career in medicine fade. But rather than retreat into disappointment, I sought out others who wanted to improve this broken system. 

In my search, the Lown Conference was a source of inspiration and productive conversation. The conference stood out to me for bringing together patients, journalists, physicians, CEOs, and students in a shared space for open discussion. Rather than being extremely specific in one field of medicine, health policy, or drug-pricing, this event was uniquely broad in its inclusion and expression of a variety of players in our health care system.

I especially appreciated hearing from journalists such as Jeanne Lenzer, Jeanne Pinder, and Elisabeth Rosenthal, who are revealing deeply-rooted problems in how we approve, deliver, and pay for health care services. The skill with which journalists research and share facts is integral to shifting public momentum towards change in our current health care system. It was a powerful reminder of how journalism can inform and empower the public.

The conference was a powerful reminder of how journalism can inform and empower the public.

Another idea that stuck with me from the conference is one proposed by Lown Institute President Dr. Vikas Saini – applying technology similar to ride-sharing companies to provide immediate cost and access to patients searching for health care. Imagine such a world. The conference was full of similarly revolutionary ideas.

At the same time, the fix for our health care crisis must be upstream. We can endlessly create new applications and education to help patients receive the best deals on health care services. But until we effectively address our issues with health care delivery, we will continue to put out fires rather than wonder how the fires started in the first place.

My biggest takeaway is that there is a path forward to a better health system, and it is one worth pursuing.

The Lown Conference helped me understand this is a slow process; yet slow does not mean impossible. I resonated with the point made by Patty Gabow – there is plenty of money, we just need to re-organize it.

My takeaway as a student – one interested in increasing the value of health care for all of us in the United States – is that there is a path forward, and it is one worth pursuing. This was a meaningful conference that I strongly recommend to anyone else, and hope to continue attending.