The notion of taking charge of your own health seems like a simple one, and for some of us, it is nearly as easy as putting on our FitBit or Jawbone and committing to stop by the gym more often. Even that, as we all know, is hard enough.
But for others around the globe, including in communities across the U.S., the barriers to health are infinitely higher, because these patients don’t have access to the basic resources that they need to be healthy, such as sufficient, healthy food or electricity to refrigerate medications.
In these instances, keeping patients healthy and not just scrambling to treat them after they get sick requires more than the newest app or customized device. It requires that we reimagine how we deliver health and healthcare across the world.
This was the challenge that my fellow panelists and I tackled during our panel discussion on “Do It Yourself Health,” during the recent World Economic Forum at Davos, which I had the privilege of attending as a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur and member of the Young Global Leader community.
Alongside Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson; musician, activist, and longtime member of the Skoll community, Peter Gabriel; Dean Linda Fried of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health; and others, we grappled with the questions: What blend of high and low-tech innovations will inspire all individuals to create wellness, rather than just combat illness? And how do we make the right choices easier for patients?
At Health Leads, we have been grappling with these questions for over 18 years. In the clinics where Health Leads operates, physicians can prescribe food, heat, and other basic resources their patients need to be healthy, just like a prescription for medication. Our well-trained college student Advocates then work side-by-side with patients, using our sophisticated technology platform to efficiently connect them to the resources in their communities that they need to be healthy — and looping back with the docs to provide patient- and population-level data about the prevalence and resolution of unmet basic needs, enabling better-informed clinical decisions.
We’ve learned that, to address the realities of patients’ lives, we need the right dosing of technological intervention and human interaction. And we also recognize that, when it comes to achieving health, we cannot confine ourselves to the four walls of the doctor’s office.
This year’s World Economic Forum acknowledged this new paradigm, naming health as one of the prominent pillars of the week’s agenda and stating that “The time is right to elevate the conversation on health …. As we ask how metaphorically to improve the economy’s health, literally improving the population’s health is a good place to start.”
A commitment to health shouldn’t be revolutionary – and yet it is, after decades of an entrenched and nearly single-minded focus on healthcare.
Indeed, in our panel and in conversations I had at Davos with Aetna CEO Mark Bertoloni, Mayo Clinic President & CEO John Noseworthy, Cardinal Health CEO George Barrett, and other healthcare leaders representing leading U.S.-based and global healthcare systems and insurers, this essential shift emerged again and again: the sector is no longer asking whether it is necessary to address the realities of patients’ lives as an integral part of care delivery, but rather how to do so effectively.
Embodying this shift, one of the most compelling discussions at Davos was entitled “Health Systems Leapfrogging in Emerging Economies” – a two hour, roll-up-your-sleeves working session with about forty health ministers and senior global healthcare leaders focused on how emerging economies can transform their health systems by leapfrogging the pitfalls currently encumbering developed economies. Together, the group wrestled with how to reimagine healthcare to anchor it in prevention, progressive payment models, and new lay workforces.
Over the past decade, a small cohort of U.S. healthcare institutions has already stepped up in seriously exploring these challenges. Kaiser Permanente, for example, is blazing the path forward in defining what it means to deliver “Total Health” to each of its patients, recognizing that only 10% of health outcomes are driven by medical care and the remaining 90% of health outcomes are impacted primarily by social, behavioral, environmental, and other factors.
Increasingly, however, this momentum extends beyond the handful of health systems whose vision and values tie explicitly to a comprehensive definition of health. For Health Leads, this shift is manifested in the 800+ expansion inquiries we have received over the past 18 months from healthcare institutions across the U.S. and internationally.
Each of these signals the unprecedented moment unfolding in the U.S. healthcare system, triggered by shifting market trends and financial incentives.
For example, as millions of newly-insured Medicaid patients enter the system through expansions in insurance coverage – many with unaddressed social needs that will impact their health – they also bring with them newfound purchasing power. Low-income patients, previously seen simply as costly and complicated, now not only represent new revenue streams for healthcare institutions, but also have greater choices about where they receive their care. As a result, health systems will increasingly be compelled to compete to deliver best quality care to these patients — and, in doing so, necessarily go beyond the boundaries of traditional medical care.
The World Economic Forum at Davos cemented this recognition that addressing patients’ social needs is not only the right thing to do, but it makes smart business sense. Now, the work is in transforming this realization into reality.
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