Bob Woodward: Healthcare Leaders Must Define What They Are Doing

Bob Woodward, political journalist and associate editor of The Washington Post, has covered every president from Richard Nixon — whom he and then-partner Carl Bernstein helped to expose in the infamous Watergate scandal — to Barack Obama. In a keynote speech at the Becker's Hospital Review Annual Meeting on May 18 in Chicago, he said there is an increasing concentration of power in all sectors of the country, and healthcare leaders must endorse a strategy of transparency to engender the trust of its constituents.  

Mr. Woodward met with former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham following the Watergate reports, and he said it "blew my mind" on how much she knew about what he and Mr. Bernstein had written. "She read everything," Mr. Woodward said. "Mind on, hands off — it's the way to run any organization. The leader has to be intellectually engaged, but the leader can't do it all. She didn't tell us how to report."

When Ms. Graham asked Mr. Woodward when everyone would learn the whole story of Watergate, he said "never." She gazed across the table with a stricken face and said, "Never? Don't tell me never."

"It was a statement of purpose, not a threat," Mr. Woodward said, who also believes that example applies to any sector, including healthcare. "That was somebody really understanding the business they are in. Define what it is you're doing. Too often, it just doesn't get defined or gets defined in a way that is inadequate."

Mr. Woodward then discussed President Obama's landmark healthcare legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and its fate in the Supreme Court. Roughly 30 years ago, he wrote a book called The Brethren, which discussed how the Supreme Court operates. So far, the public has only seen the oral arguments from the PPACA case, and Mr. Woodward said the oral arguments do not dictate what the final decision of a case will be. "You cannot tell from the oral argument what is going to happen," Mr. Woodward said. "It's not significant, and it's a little bit of a showboat opportunity."

He closed his speech on an anecdote of Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State during President Nixon's term. A couple years ago, Mr. Woodward and his wife were in the audience of a panel of experts who were talking about the aging process. Everyone took a survey, which asked healthcare questions such as exercise trends and diet and then "calculated" how many years they have to live.

Mr. Woodward and his wife sat behind Mr. Kissinger, and they saw that his score indicated "he died four years ago." Mr. Kissinger appeared to be unhappy with the result, Mr. Woodward said, so he erased his original answers and put in new ones. He then had eight years to live.

After roughly 40 years of covering U.S. presidents, he said that type of behavior is widespread. He said public officials of the highest offices want the official story to best reflect their interests. "[Mr. Kissinger] spun it. That's what happens," Mr. Woodward said. "They rescore it, and we're getting the rescoring. It is always a different picture."

More Articles on the Becker's Hospital Review Annual Meeting:

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