2009: The health year in review

If the annual top-10 lists are any indication, health care reform and the emergence of the H1N1 novel influenza virus were among the biggest health happenings this past year.

As everyone compiles their traditional year-end reviews of the 2009 milestones in health care, these two are among virtually all the picks, including the Harvard Health LetterUSA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

WebMD offers both a list and a slideshow of its choices for the top 10 stories. For a worldwide perspective, the World Health Organization has put together a photo essay of the top stories about global health in 2009. And at Kaiser Health News, there’s an entertaining retrospective of political cartoons about health care reform.

It’s intriguing to see some of the other choices among the lists of the top 10. For instance, Doctors Without Borders singled out malnutrition and neglected diseases as among the top humanitarian crises of 2009. One of the picks of the Harvard Health Letter editors was research suggesting there’s a social dimension to weight gain and other health-related behaviors – in other words, "Do your friends make you fat?"

This being the end of a decade, lists of the top health/medical advances of the past 10 years are being compiled as well. At his blog, Dr. Aidan Charles has put together a slate of the top 10 and is asking readers to vote on the three most significant (polling closes on New Year’s Eve). His ballot includes battlefield medicine, the human genome project, the public health benefits of smoking bans, and the growth of online health information.

MedPage Today also is running a series, "The Changing Face of Medicine, 1984-2009," that takes a look at developments over the past 25 years in medicine. The first couple of installments, which include video and expert commentary, assess our progress in treating peptic ulcers and HIV/AIDS.

Physician/blogger Richard Fogoros proposes his own list: the 10 most overblown health stories of the past decade. Among his picks: mad cow disease, an "epidemic of epidemics," and the persistence of the belief that vaccines and autism are linked.

If a local list of the biggest health care stories of the year were compiled, it would surely include health care reform and H1N1, both of which hit close to home this past year. We saw local medical providers work overtime as they prepared for pandemic influenza, gave out vaccinations and fielded questions and concerns from a worried public. The health care reform debate also went local when Willmar hosted a standing-room-only town hall meeting in August.

Other stories I’d put on the list are the hiring of a new chief executive at Rice Memorial Hospital, the grand opening of a new addition at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield, the opening of the Willmar Center for Diagnostic Imaging, the opening of the newly integrated Willmar Cancer Center (watch for an open house in another month or so), the establishment and adoption of a new strategic plan that will shape Rice Hospital’s future direction in the next few years, and physician recruitment efforts that have been stepped up and have begun to pay off with some successes this past year.

Are there other local stories you’d add to the top 10? Which one would you select as the most important? Leave your feedback in the comment section below.

West Central Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

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