NASW Staff Attend IOM Events

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


NASW staff recently attended two events hosted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), both of which focused on health care reform.

In February, Karyn Walsh, NASW special assistant for special projects, attended a summit on integrative medicine. The meeting was convened by IOM and The Bravewell Collaborative and was held at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of the summit was to advance the understanding and progress of integrative medicine, which can be described as health care that collectively addresses the physical, psychological, social, preventive and therapeutic aspects of the healing process. The meeting examined the nature of those factors, the science supporting current understanding, the impacts of personal and community environments, delivery models and workforce needs, the economics and the priorities moving forward.

"The inclusion of behavioral health and mental health as part of integrative medicine was discussed, since this model of care includes the health of the entire person, physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually," Walsh said.

Summit leaders and participants arrived at a number of conclusions, including that the nation needs to shift from a disease-oriented model of care to one of prevention and wellness.

"Social workers across all practice settings educate their clients on wellness strategies and stress reduction. It is a proven medical fact that wellness and prevention activities help reduce the incidence and severity of many chronic illnesses," said Walsh.

The meeting content and discussions shared important information and integrative content to a number of center-stage initiatives for transformation of the healthcare system, including patient-centered care; medicine that is personalized, predictive, preventive and participatory; mind-body relationships and health; the scientific basis of integrative medicine; health care financing reform; shared decision-making; value-driven health care; and team-based care processes.

Walsh was inspired when Ellen Stovall of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship said, "We need to move from a culture of me to a culture of we," while speaking on a panel at the summit.

"This point resonated with me and evidently many other experts there, because they used the same meaning over and over again in their presentations," Walsh said. "As multiple health and behavioral health providers, we need to advocate for a collective voice versus an individual one.

"As a society and as health and behavioral health providers, we need to come together to advocate for care that is holistic, patient centered, and teach and even reward people for following preventive and wellness strategies, such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced and healthy diet, and seeking health care on a preventive and treatment basis," she said.

Walsh says it is important, however, for any revised health care system to continue to provide excellent treatment and care, because people do become ill, even with prevention and wellness activity.

Walsh says much emphasis was placed on the entire country shifting to electronic medical records (EMRs). In recent weeks, NASW has added materials to its Web site on new developments in EMRs, particularly concerning maintaining patient privacy while facilitating information flow, which is essential to the development and practice of integrative medicine.

Various components of care were also highlighted, such as health and well-being; acute care; chronic disease care; ER care; catastrophic care; and end-of-life care.

Several successful models of integrated medicine were provided at the summit, including models for universal health care coverage and ideas for covering the 48 million uninsured Americans, Walsh said.

"Integrative medicine is a hope for the future of health care in this country, but it will take a collective effort of all professionals and consumers to make it happen. We have to look out for all of us, not just our particular individual interests," Walsh said.

The Final Summit Report will be issued in late 2009. Additionally, some of the summit planning committee members serve on President Obama's advisory committee on health care reform and will include suggestions from some of the sessions in their summary and recommendations to the presidential advisory committee.

NASW Senior Practice Associate Chris Herman attended another IOM-sponsored forum, Health Reform for an Aging America, in Washington, D.C., in March.

IOM released a report in 2008, titled "Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce," which offered suggestions on how to prepare the health care workforce for the aging of our country. The meeting addressed how the recommendations are important to health care reform discussions.

"The forum covered a variety of educational, training, service delivery, and reimbursement issues related to health care provision for older adults," said Herman. "Speakers repeatedly referenced social work as an essential component of interdisciplinary health care for older adults."

A bill that aims to address the shortage of health care personnel who are trained to care for older adults was reviewed during the symposium.

The "Retooling the Health Care Workforce for an Aging America Act of 2009" (H.R. 468/S. 245) seeks to expand education and training opportunities in geriatric and long-term care for licensed health professionals, direct care workers and family caregivers by amending the Public Health Service Act, the Workforce Investment Act, the Older Americans Act and the Social Security Act.

The legislation includes a number of provisions to promote social work expertise in aging.

The Institute of Medicine in now part of the The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.