CHICAGO — If doctors really want to transform health care, they're going to need to leave the past behind, bust through silos and find ways to collaborate with the rest of the health care industry. It's a simple message, one many hospital leaders have heard plenty, but it sounded all-the-more impactful coming from the new AMA president.

Ardis Dee Hoven, M.D., an infectious disease physician out of Lexington, Ky., gave a rousing speech Tuesday night, during her inauguration as 168th president of the American Medical Association. She challenged fellow doctors who gripe about change, and urged them to put aside politics and embrace their roles in shaping history.

"Behind us lies a century of failed attempts to improve this system," Hoven said. "Ahead of us lie two distinct paths. One is the path of inaction, of glorifying the past, succumbing to partisan politics and thwarting any attempt to move forward. The other is the path of action, of collaborating, innovating and leading the drive toward productive change. I think you know which path we belong on, and I look forward to walking it with you in the year ahead."

I spent a few minutes speaking with Hoven earlier this week, and she had some pointed things to say about the payment side of the equation. The AMA this week released its first Administrative Burden Index, ranking insurers based on how much they contribute to unnecessary health costs.

During her inagural speech, Hoven ticked off a list of some of the items on the AMA's agenda — combatting the epidemic of chronic diseases, fostering innovation in medical education, improving health IT, achieving meaningful medical liability reform, eliminating the Independent Payment Advisory Board (which got a round of applause), and putting the Sustainable Growth Rate formula "to bed once and for all" (even more applause).

But she said none of those things will happen without physicians working in concert with others, including hospitals.

"Too often, the members of America's health care system operate in silos: the pharmacy silo, the physician silo, the hospital silo, the insurance company, the government, the medical school. If we are to fix the system, we need to step outside our silos and learn to connect to each other in a meaningful way," she said.

Delegates for the nation's largest physician organization passed a slew of new policies this week as well, many of which have been making headlines:

  • Obesity is now considered a disease to "help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans," AMA board member Patrice Harris, M.D., said in a statement.
  • The AMA has taken a stand against the FDA's lifetime ban of gay men donating blood, which it says is "not based on sound science" and should rather be changed to "ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and not based on sexual orientation alone," board member William Kobler, M.D., said in a statement.
  • The group is also looking to start providing physicians with assistance to effectively use electronic resources during patient interactions, and to incorporate questions about the topic into satisfaction surveys. "We look forward to gathering more information to help physicians best incorporate this new technology into their interactions with patients," AMA Board Chair Steven Stack, M.D., said in a statement.