he mission of the Fund's International Program in Health Policy and Practice is three-fold: building an international network of health care researchers devoted to policy, sparking creative thinking about health policy through international exchanges, and encouraging comparative research and collaboration among industrialized nations. As part of that work, the program conducts high-level international policy forums to promote the exchange of innovations targeting common problems.
For the past eight years, the Fund has hosted an annual international symposium focusing on a health policy topic of mutual concern to the United States and other industrialized nations. This year's symposium, held November 2-4 in Washington, D.C., brought together policy experts to discuss issues surrounding patient choice, health system responsiveness, and ways that health care systems can implement patient-centered care concepts. Participants included health ministers or their designates from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as senior government officials and leading researchers from each country. In addition, experts from Germany and the Netherlands were invited to share innovations under way in their country.
In the opening keynote address, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt spoke about his recent trip to Asia and concerns about the potentially devastating effects of an avian flu pandemic on world health and economic well-being—and the need for pandemic readiness, both in the U.S. and abroad. Secretary Leavitt stressed the importance of health information technology (IT), not just during times of natural disasters but in efforts to improve the overall quality of health care.
A further highlight of the meeting was the fourth John M. Eisenberg, M.D., International Lecture, delivered by Donald M. Berwick, M.D., president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Berwick issued a challenge to policy leaders to control and rationalize health care financing, pursue integrated and population-based care, and improve the reliability and safety of care.