If you go to enough conferences and industry events, it can sometimes be a bit of an echo chamber, especially if they are things like “Web 2.0” conferences — a bunch of people who pretty much believe the same thing. There’s little dissension and sometimes as a result, little insight.

So it is both interesting, disturbing, and telling to read an article such as this from Crain’s Detroit Business. It describes a panel discussion held in Dearborn Tuesday by the Greater Detroit Area Health Council. The theme of the program was “The Empowered Consumer … Ready or Not?”

The disturbing part of the article comes via the quotes from the doctor on the panel, Paul Harkaway, president of the Huron Valley Physicians Association P.C. He fears a consumer-driven model, comparing consumer-empowered health to the MTV show Pimp My Ride

“The show takes a junky car and makes it look good. Money is spent to make the car look good, but does it run well? Consumerism will fail and fail miserably,” Harkaway said.

He urged consumers to form groups to stand united if they want to make a difference in how health care quality could improve.

Ahh yes, good old unions. They’ve been working so well for the American consumer these days, haven’t they?

Jennifer Sweeney, director for Americans for Quality Health Care, National Partnership for Women and Families, on the other hand, had more insightful comments that resonated with me —

Sweeney said health care providers need to be transparent, accountable, improve quality, lower costs and improve accreditation. And consumers need to be part of the process.

“Why aren’t the consumers at the table?” Sweeney said.

A good question indeed. They’re coming, if only the doctors will allow them to sit down.

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