Monday, November 1, 2010

The meeting that wasn't, and a surprise announcement

Although I normally arrive at work around 9 AM on Mondays, today would have been an important exception. This was to be the first day of the third U.S. Preventive Services Task Force meeting of 2010, and about now, outgoing Task Force Chairman Ned Calonge would be calling the meeting to order and asking every person in the room, including staff, observers, and the medical transcriptionist, to introduce themselves by name, position, and one interesting personal fact that changed from meeting to meeting. One meeting it was birthplaces; another meeting it was our favorite vacation spots; another, our favorite quotations. Even though this process often consumed half an hour or more, Dr. Calonge believed that getting to know each other a little bit better was crucial to the success of dissecting volumes of scientific evidence and making recommendations that would affect primary care clinicians and patients throughout the United States, if not the world.

As reported in this article in the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog, however, there is no USPSTF meeting today. And while the question of why the meeting was cancelled is perhaps easily answered by looking at the calendar, in my mind it is much less apparent how to repair the damage that this setback did to the Task Force, medicine, and the fragile public trust.

This leads me to an announcement that may come as a surprise to some: in less than three weeks, I will be leaving the support team of the USPSTF and resigning from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. I am looking forward to having more time to spend writing this blog and Healthcare Headaches, as well as expanding my medical editing roles at American Family Physician and returning to patient care. But I will miss my colleagues at AHRQ and the Task Force very much. To borrow a line from a farewell message I sent to many of them last week, they deserve all our thanks for everything they do (and will continue to do) to make the U.S. health care "system" a little bit more rational, despite the many obstacles and challenges. Politics trumped science this time, as it has in the past, and may at times in the future. On the bright side, though, in a few more weeks the growing force of private sector allies of the USPSTF and evidence-based medicine will have one more member, and I'm ready and willing to speak my mind.