Excelsior/Churchill lecturer: COVID-19 underscores the need for a comprehensive digital strategy to improve access to care

Jonathan Woodson, MD, FACS, USAR
Jonathan Woodson, MD, FACS, USAR

The digitization of society has changed the way we live, work, and play. It also has accelerated the pace of change for health care delivery.

“We need to thoughtfully and consciously understand how we are going to incorporate digital platforms into improving and evolving the way we care for patients, teach, and do research—with the aim that we can amplify human capability and improve outcomes,” said Jonathan Woodson, MD, FACS, USAR, director, Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy, Boston University.

Dr. Woodson, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs (2010–2016),  will deliver the Excelsior Surgical Society/Edward D. Churchill Lecture, American Surgery: The Imperative to Lead and Evolve at the Speed of Relevance, at 9:00 am CDT Tuesday, October 6. The lecture will be available for on-demand viewing through the virtual Clinical Congress meeting platform through December 31.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in medicine, and Dr. Woodson says American surgery has a responsibility to advance its leadership to “the speed of relevance,” just as the great surgeons of World War II did.

Many civilian surgeons were called into service during the war to improve the system of care for soldiers. At the end of the war, the Excelsior Surgical Society formed to ensure the medical data from the conflict was catalogued, analyzed, and codified to bring improvements back to civilian medicine.

While working for the U.S. Department of Defense and running one of the largest health care systems in the world, Dr. Woodson promoted leveraging digital technologies, such as telehealth, to increase access to care and better connect with patients. COVID-19 has presented challenges that require a new look at digital resources.

“We’ve had to make pivots to telehealth. We’ve interrupted undergraduate and graduate medical education,” he said. “Going forward, we need to develop a more comprehensive digital strategy that allows us to augment human capabilities as well as provide greater access to care, improve the quality of care, and create a sustainable health system.”

The pandemic has created an environment for thinking about things differently, as well as opportunities to embrace change.

“As the Amazons and the Googles of the world promote their efforts in health care, they will challenge the conventional way we look at things,” Dr. Woodson said.

He stresses that American surgery must modernize and develop the path forward.

“Otherwise it’ll be defined for us,” he said. “We have a responsibility for improving the system, ensuring that digital technologies are applied with the right standards and are evaluated for the right outcomes.”

Dr. Woodson has appointments as a professor of surgery and as a professor in the business school at Boston University. The latter includes a focus on health sector leadership and developing new digital business models.

The Excelsior Surgical Society was a group of 80 medical officers who first met in 1945 at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome. This lecture honors both the society and Col. Edward C. Churchill, a famous surgeon who served as a consultant to the U.S. Army in the Italian Theatre during WWII. This lecture is sponsored by the ACS Military Health System Strategic Partnership.