New relationships being forged in health care
Many people remember marriage vows pledging unfaltering loyalty to each other “in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Health and sickness are two opposites on a continuum of how we feel at any one moment in time. The vows are sort of a reminder that things get a little tougher when we are sick. It is easy to get things done when all is well, and especially when our body feels good. But, feeling good can often mean we have our body on automatic pilot, letting it take care of itself.
When we get sick, we slow down or stop in order to get better. We try to figure out what’s going on and usually take some over-the-counter medicine, or maybe get to bed for extra rest. Sickness can be a strong taskmaster because life needs to be nursed back to health or else we can’t carry on. Getting better is a sort of a natural self-preservation process that forces us to do good things to our bodies.
Feeling good isn’t such a strong taskmaster as sickness is. Sickness forces us to do things so we are still alive and kicking. Feeling good presumes we want to do things that keep us that way, but doesn’t force us to care good care of ourselves. We all know that is easy to cut corners or put off stopping an unhealthy behavior, like smoking for example. The problem is that when we are lazy about preserving our health we pay a price that is not always evident. When we are sick, we know it and do something. When we do something unhealthy we can fool ourselves into letting it go and we can get silently sicker.
As we look forward to 2014 and beyond, we Americans are going to be challenged to pay much more attention to our health and be given help to preserve it. Both the new federal and state health care insurance programs, as well as the current health insurance we might have, all will try to work with us and our physicians to be proactive in keeping healthy. How is that different from what we have now? For most of us who have it, our health insurance only kicks in when we get sick. Try and get health insurance to reimburse us for an exercise program today. Try and find a place we can go to because we have diabetes, feel good, but don’t want to get sick from the diabetes. Normally everything that gets paid for by health insurance is for sickness care, not health maintenance or proactive “stuff” that keeps us healthy.
Hospitals and doctors, drug stores and Walmart are all being challenged to be part of a new solution to keep Americans healthier and less sick. Easy and quick places to get a “health tune-up” are appearing across the country. We can get a flu shot from the local pharmacist, for example. Underlying all this effort to keep people healthy is a belief that if we are successful we will pay a lot less for health care in America.
Communities like ours all across the country are not sticking with the “way we always did it” to solve tomorrow’s health care dilemmas. They are forging new relationships with physicians and hospital employees to help create a new way to take care of people. They are not filling hospital beds with sick people, but trying to keep people in their own beds as healthy as they can be. They are meeting and talking with fellow citizens on how we will keep and transform the health delivery systems we need; how to create new ones we don’t have; and how we need to create a whole new relationship with patients and their families.
As consumers of health care it should be a welcomed and exciting change. For health care providers like hospitals, physicians, nurses and other staff it means a sober assessment of what needs to be done, unified efforts to make the new happen, and an intelligent, courageous plan to change. This will be no fairy tale. Change in health care in America is well under way and will greatly accelerate this coming year. Communities like ours must assume a strong and involved vigilance that what is best for the community as a whole gets done. There should be only one litmus test for all our health care leaders: what we do must always be in the best interest of the patient. And, there can only be one judge of that commitment: the community we serve. If we disregard the communities we serve, we need to be ready to have serious failure in keeping our doors open.
In the meantime, stay healthy.
Joe Stewart is the former chief executive officer for Sierra View District Hospital.