Don BerwickFour months after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Donald Berwick took the reins of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. During 17 months at the agency’s helm, he oversaw numerous improvements to Medicare, including the expansion of preventive screening services and changes to prescription drug benefits. Now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Berwick, MD, MPP, will be the keynote speaker at the opening session of APHA’s Midyear Meeting in Charlotte, N.C., on June 26.

As budgets and workforces shrink, everyone in the health system is being asked to take on more duties. Is it possible for public health professionals to adapt to this new workload while also increasing their quality, efficiency and effectiveness, and if so, how?

Public health, like all production systems, has processes (through) which it gets its work done. Those processes can be continually improved using modern methods of quality management and process improvement. I think that public health professionals are very badly needed in the health care system of the future. We need the energy to really devote to the improvement of health status in the population but it may require of public health professionals, as it will require all other professionals, to rethink how they do their work so they can experience more efficiency and more satisfaction in their achievements. Improvement of work involves a level of openness and receptivity to very new ideas, ideas that could at first be uncomfortable. The challenge (for) public health professionals, as it is for all others, is to be willing to embrace change in the traditional approaches to the way they get their work done.

The full interview was conducted by Teddi Dineley Johnson and is published in the May/June 2012 issue of The Nation’s Health, APHA’s newspaper. Read the full interview here.