There are those in the health care industry who contend that hospitals are easy targets for cuts in

Medicare reimbursements and point out that smaller (community) hospitals don’t have much left to cut. They don’t get medical education funding, costs for drugs are going up just as fast as the increased number of senior citizens, and there are unfunded proposals on staffing, leaders of those systems say.

Newt Gingrich of the Center for Health Transformation may have a solution.

“We clearly have to rethink the role of community hospitals,” Gingrich said.

“Smaller community hospitals need to be addressed as unique challenges for training, for capital investment and for information technology,” he said.

What should the 21st Century Intelligent Community Hospital be?

“It may well be that, in many communities, there should be a greater focus on providing primary care for chronic conditions, particularly given our aging demographics and the rise of such diseases as diabetes,” Gingrich said in an interview with Hospital News. “Our problem is that too often we tend to look at where we are and what we have been and then think about how to protect or maintain that role. What we need to do instead is look out ten or even twenty years and think about what is the right vision for the future and then build back from there.”

This, Gingrich stated, is something “we’re very interested in” at the Center, where a 21st Century Intelligent Hospital Project is currently being launched.

“The role of community hospital is an important part of that project,” Gingrich said. “We would welcome input and ideas from your readers as we begin that conversation.”

Gingrich also is quick to offer a suggestion on finding a solution to the ongoing medical malpractice insurance crisis in the United States. This problem of soaring liability insurance premiums is forcing some physicians to close their practices and relocate or retire early. It also throttles efforts by hospitals and physicians to recruit young physicians who are already burdened by heavy debt from medical school and cannot afford to go it alone with a medical practice.

“If you want to find real solutions to the problem of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, look at what has happened in Texas over the past few years,” he said.

“Prior to 2003, personal injury lawyers had forced doctors out of the state or out of practice,” Gingrich said of the Texas situation. “Hospital premiums had more than doubled between 2000 and 2003, and one out of four doctors was sued between 1996 and 2000 alone. Because of litigators run amok, skyrocketing legal and insurance bills caused patients to suffered reduced access to health care. Hospital premiums to protect against the onslaught of lawsuits more than doubled between 2000 and 2003.”

Gingrich recalled that in the summer of 2003 Texas enacted “genuine medical liability reform.”

“As a result, physicians have begun to return to Texas and professional liability insurance premiums have declined significantly,” he said. “Most notably, the number of frivolous lawsuits filed against doctors has been cut almost in half.

“Texas has taken an important step toward building what we would call a 21st Century Health Justice System,” Gingrich concluded. “Other states interested in expanding access to health care by increasing the number of physicians and lowering costs should take a page from the Texas playbook.”