Media responsibility in the national health care debate and plans for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital were among the topics at a panel discussion held at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown Tuesday night.

Panel members included Dr. Pieter Pil, a surgeon and chief of the medical staff at the Island hospital, Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association.

In the audience were approximately 50 Vineyarders and visitors. A question and answer period of the evening, which was cosponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust and the Martha’s Vineyard Times, followed a discussion among the panel members on the benefits of the new hospital. The hospital is owned by Partners Health Care, the parent company of Massachusetts General Hospital, an arrangement which members of the panel argued will result in better and more coordinated delivery of care at the $42 million hospital.

Dr. Pil pointed to private patient suites as among the planned improvements at the hospital. “You’re not going to hear about your neighbor’s illness, which I think is important on a small Island,” he said. Among other features of the new hospital he mentioned are a tele-medicine facility in conjunction with the Boston hospital, and birthing tubs. “I’m pleased to say the hospital is on schedule and on budget,” said Dr. Pil.

Ms. Nicholas said the Island hospital is fiscally strong. Dr. Slavin said that electronic medical records were planned for the future and would provide efficiencies in quality and cost of care. It was one of the few planned improvements that the panel predicted would help lower health care costs. Dr. Pil argued that in the current system there is little correlation between cost and quality, something he blamed on lack of incentives. “Doctors are paid for the visits and procedures; no one’s paying for quality,” he said.

All three panelists praised the Massachusetts health care system, considered a starting point and a model for the rest of the country, currently locked in a health care debate. And in terms of that debate all three panelists were firm backers of Mr. Obama’s health care plan. “I’m personally very supportive of what the President’s trying to do,” said Mr. Slavin in his opening remarks, adding: “Health care accounted for seven per cent of the economy when I left college; now it’s 18 per cent. In 30 years we could see the entire economy devoted to health care, and that would make for boring debate at cocktail parties.”

Responding to questions from the audience, the panelists said that the health care systems of other developed nations were worthy of consideration in the search for health care reform in this country, and that they disagreed with a notion espoused by some in the media that America’s is the best system in the world. “It’s not the best, it’s a great system, it’s also the most expensive, and covers much less of the population,” said Dr. Slavin. He argued that the press has given undue credence to the spreading of outright misinformation within the recent health care debate.

“I am disappointed that some groups have used [the health care debate] as an opportunity to promote an agenda that is somewhat separate from what this debate should be about,” he said, later adding: “The demagoguery out of Washington in the past two months has been truly astonishing . . . the death squads are a piece of total fantasy, yet the press tried to report [the story] as having two sides.”