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6 Important Figures in U.S. Healthcare

Stethoscope on a white puzzle heart

Leaders possess long-term vision and inspire others to make positive changes. These individuals may lead bold startup firms, entire nations or even change the course of human history. In this spirit, the following leaders have made advancements, decisions, and contributions that have helped improve and revolutionize healthcare.

Barack Obama

In March 2010, President Barack Obama enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Its elements include prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing illnesses, extending child coverage to the age of 26, delivering free physicals and providing millions of U.S. citizens with healthcare coverage. [2] However, the initiative has some drawbacks. As a result, legislators have begun working on ways to improve the Affordable Care Act so that all citizens benefit from the plan. While the current administration works to improve America’s first attempt at universal healthcare, history will remember former President Barack Obama as the Commander in Chief who achieved the goal of fundamentally changing healthcare coverage in the United States.

Bill & Melinda Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates launched the Gates Foundation in 1997. [3] Two years later, the couple established the Gates Millennium Scholarship Fund.

In the United States, the foundations work to improve education for postsecondary and high school students. The organizations also assist at-risk families that live in the state of Washington, and collaborate with global organizations to prevent hunger and poverty in the world’s most underdeveloped regions. With the help of partners, the foundation develops and applies real solutions to regional issues. To implement these initiatives, the Gates Foundation values partnerships that place emphasis on teamwork, innovation, risk-taking and quantifiable results; tools that Bill Gates used to build global giant Microsoft, and achieve nearly unparalleled professional and financial success.

Malcom Baldrige Jr

Malcom Baldrige was an accomplished political leader who led the effort to enact the Export Trading Company Act of 1982, chaired the Cabinet-level Trade Strike Force at the behest of the Nation’s president and steered work to reform antitrust legislation in the United States. [4] With his keen management skills, he helped to create lasting changes that improved the financial and operational performance of government operations. Baldrige also streamlined Commerce Department operations, reducing the departmental budget by 30 percent and personnel by 25 percent.

In the 1980s, legislators realized that U.S. firms needed to improve product quality to compete in the global marketplace. This realization sparked a transition — in large part led by then Secretary of Commerce, Malcom Baldrige Jr — to improve American product quality and promote a sustainable economic future.

Due to his contribution to improving American product quality, Congress established the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act in 1987, and established a related award in his honor. The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program outlines key criteria for product quality improvement, recognizes outstanding business role models, and serves as a platform to share evolving best practices in product and service quality.

Since 1987, the act has increased in scope to include the healthcare and academic fields. Today, the award recognizes all organizations that serve as role models and promote excellence.

Helen Haskell

Since the death of her son Lewis, in 2000, Helen Haskell has led Mothers Against Medical Errors in promoting consumer medical knowledge and healthcare safety and quality. [5] She helped to implement the Lewis Blackman Patient Safety Act. It requires hospitals to provide a way for patients to report emergencies as well as several other related initiatives. Haskell also serves on the board of directors of the National Patient Safety Foundation and collaborates with other consumer health advocacy groups such as:

  • Consumers Advancing Patient Safety
  • The Institute for Healthcare Improvement
  • The International Society of Rapid Response Systems
  • The World Health Organization

In 2009, Consumer Reports bestowed Ms. Haskell with the first ever Excellence in Advocacy award. She also works with media and educational initiatives that teach the public how to safely access medical services. Haskell has also authored and co-authored several publications related to patient safety.

Henrietta Lacks

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks passed away due to cervical cancer. Before her passing and during one of her medical visits, researchers derived cells from her cancerous tumor without consent. [6] At that time, informed consent was not an assumed right as it is today, but this incident ignited an enduring ethical debate.

Mrs. Lacks cancer cells were found to have an immortal quality that made them remarkably durable and prolific for research. The cell line was named HeLa, after the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last name. The HeLa cell line is now the most important medical research product used by scientists; “continually been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits.” [8]

In 2013, the family secured limited rights to Henrietta’s gene. As a result, researchers are now required to acknowledge Henrietta Lacks in scientific publications when using HeLa cells. In the meantime, organizations such as the National Foundation for Cancer Research, the Smithsonian Institution and various researchers have acknowledged the importance of Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to medicine.

Judith Faulkner

In 1979, Judith Faulkner launched Human Services Computing — now called Epic Systems — in a basement with three employees. [7] By 2014, KLAS Research named her firm the best overall physician practice vendor, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services now reports that over 109,000 qualified health professionals use Epic software.

Today, Judith Faulkner’s firm provides healthcare software for nearly 70 percent of care provider organizations that meet the implementation standards of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Faulkner has since partnered with IBM, using the firm’s proprietary Watson artificial intelligence technology to make further use of the information generated by Epic software. With the technology, she plans to improve how researchers choose patients for clinical trials, which would ultimately help advance medical treatments. Amazingly, her firm achieved success with little to no marketing; the software platform gained popularity solely through word of mouth.

Healthcare visionaries like the ones described here, and healthcare administrators everywhere, make decisions on behalf of consumers and organizations that promote community wellness. [1] They know how to rally support for new ideas that will improve the way health organizations operate. They also understand that the most important members in their sphere of influence are the constituents they serve, and the team members with whom they share their success.

Learn More

Healthcare markets are expanding. The workforce is growing. That means demand for new leadership is rising, too. Through the online Master of Healthcare Administration in Strategy and Innovation at Adventist University of Health Sciences, you can learn to steer multifaceted health systems toward a culture of innovation, all in line with your core values. We believe furthering healthcare starts with advancing dedicated leaders like you.

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[8] Smith, Van (April 17, 2002). “Wonder Woman The Life, Death, and Life After Death of Henrietta Lacks, Unwitting Heroine of Modern Medical Science”. Baltimore City Paper. August 14, 2004.