Keeping values alive in the marketplace

Most social institutions, according to Samuel O. Thier, M.D., former chair of the Department of Medicine and now CEO of the Harvard-affiliated Partners HealthCare, have failed to keep pace with the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. “Medicine,” he said, “is perhaps as complicated as any social system we have. Doing anything to change it is going to create major problems.

“Nonetheless, if it continues to change in the fashion it is changing now, which is by chaos in the marketplace, without values driving that change, I fear for what might come out at the other end,” Thier said, as he delivered the Department of Medicine’s fifth annual Samuel O. Thier Lecture, named in his honor, on September 20.

Partners, founded in 1994 by Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has used the strength of its affiliations to preserve its values in an increasingly competitive marketplace. “Academic medicine,” Thier said, “provides not just the intellectual base, it provides social values, it provides education, it provides research, it advances care and it has been the safety net for the indigent and the people who are uncovered. The number of uninsured is still an embarrassment in this country. If those [academic] institutions are injured, then we have a major problem.”