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New President Schwimmer describes next steps for Health Care Quality Institute

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Linda Schwimmer, new president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute.
Linda Schwimmer, new president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. - ()

Linda Schwimmer has taken the helm of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute in Pennington.

As the new president of the institute, Schwimmer said she intends to continue the legacy left behind by David Knowlton, and carry out the mission to take on initiatives to further transparency and accountability in the health care industry.

“Putting information out there on quality was groundbreaking. Now the entire payment system is moving in that direction,” Schwimmer said in a phone conversation.

Some of the challenges facing the institute include lack of data and lack of access to data, a challenge not unique to the state, she said.

Her goal is to push for more access to data, similar to what has happened in Minnesota, where the whole state has dashboards on where it is on quality measures and community health measures.

Other states also have information publicly available to look at patterns of practice and prices of common surgeries or services — all to help individuals make the choice of which combination of price and quality best suits them.

“Once we start sharing data with health care providers and communities and patients, that’s when we really starting having a conversation about what it is we really want, what we are looking for in health care, what is the quality of life, so to speak,” Schwimmer said.

Another topic of concern for Schwimmer is where the dollars are going in health care.

“It used to be 8 percent went to pharmaceuticals, and that has grown exponentially and is now closer to, though it varies by population, 12 to 15 percent in the commercial market. And newer specialty drugs, like those for hepatitis C or rare diseases, have seen a lot of cost growth and there are a lot of questions. Some drugs are life-saving like hep C, but some are questionable of whether they are any better than lower-cost drugs,” she said.

Historically, there are lower rates on generic use, but the same issue is a challenge nationally.

All of these concerns and issues can be addressed by driving the conversations for restructuring payment methods, service delivery methods and policies that affect health care, as the institute has been doing.

The one program Schwimmer is particularly proud of and hopes to continue growing is the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign.

The institute helps towns create health awareness and push for improved wellness by providing information about grants and funding for programs, connecting with local partners and other strategies, and creating a network among the participating mayors.

Schwimmer has had experience in the legal system, as a business administrator and working with the government on policies. But she has also seen health care from the lens of a consumer and a mother.

“Health care is very personal, and that’s why it gets politicized so quickly. Everyone needs it and everyone uses it. I have experience understanding the process of policies and state budgets and how it all comes to fruition. It can seem illogical but there is always a back story, and that helps me to get it,” Schwimmer said.

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