Independence day in healthcare: Are we really free?
Everyone loves a holiday. Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July…most of us get a day off and enjoy spending time with family and friends. I know I do (except, of course when the family is out of town and I choose to spend the day blogging instead of watching the Fourth of July pet parade).
As cool as they are though, holidays are like just about everything else that’s good in life – they soon become taken for granted and the true meaning they were originally intended to bring soon play second-fiddle to what we’ve made of them. The Fourth of July is no different, but today I did want to take a step back from the fireworks, put the watermelon down, and comment on the concept of freedom in America, and how, if at all, this impacts the healthcare industry (believe me, I’ll get to the fireworks and watermelon a bit later).
We often hear about “freedom” and “independence” in America, and how the “land of the free” is one of the most sacred constructs of our way of life in this country. I agree that it is. We are free to choose how we live, free to go where we want to go, and free to do what we want to do. Freedom really is a pretty cool thing, and even though many of us prefer a cold beer and a hamburger on Independence Day rather than a deep discussion about our founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, I think it’s OK as long as we’re living “freedom” and “independence” in our everyday lives, providing living testimony to the significance of our freedom.
Living “free” has many benefits, and has allowed our country to evolve into the technologically advanced and economically powerful force that we are today (Did I just say that? Give it a couple of years, we’ll swing back around). Living free allows us to express ourselves creatively and try new things, hoping to improve ourselves and others through an endless pursuit of the biggest, the brightest, and the best. And while many fall down in their pursuits (I know I have), we as Americans are free to stand back up, try again, and get it right the next go around.
Now, freedom, as great as it is, is an interesting concept as related to healthcare. In my opinion, there’s no other industry in which freedom should play more of a role – innovation, creativity, compassion, progress, and many other by-products of freedom form the cornerstone of the healthcare industry, allowing us to care for each other, improve the quality of our lives, and form the foundation for future generations of healthy individuals. The problem is, this isn’t the way it works.
Unfortunately, the healthcare industry is far from “free.” On the provider side we don’t have the freedom to choose the treatments that we know will help our patients because they aren’t reimbursed, we don’t have the freedom to spend the time we need with our patients because we need to see large volumes in order to keep our doors open, and we don’t challenge the system with new business models and delivery methods because of fear of professional fallout and failure. On the patient side we don’t have the freedom to choose our providers because they aren’t part of our insurance plan, we don’t have the freedom to leave our employers because they insure our health, and we don’t have the freedom to work as a team with our providers because they don’t have the time to spend with us. Doesn’t sound too “free” to me.
So, what’s the answer to this apparent lack of freedom in healthcare? Well, I think it’s entrepreneurship. I think we need to spend more time evaluating the drivers of good healthcare, and how to align the incentives of our healthcare business models with those of our patients (our “customers”). I completely understand the argument that there are many who will fall through the cracks in a system that doesn’t provide a safety net – I get it, and I agree. I don’t agree however that the safety net should effectively reduce the “freedom” of our best and brightest to find new, more efficient, and more profitable ways to deliver healthcare to our country – entrepreneurship as I would call it.
There’s not a simple fix to the healthcare problem in America, but I firmly believe that innovation and creativity is the foundation from which the tides will begin to turn. Much of our freedom has been lost in the healthcare industry, but the good news is that getting it back is not as far off as one might think. Making the decision to say “no” to insurance companies that won’t allow you to provide good care and deciding that you will find a way to be profitable using new, perhaps even untested business models in your area is a profound, but good first step. There are many great new models of care out there that may or may not work change healthcare as we know it. But my hat is tipped to all that are trying something new in an effort to be “free” and to improve our system through innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
Tannus Quatre is a passionate blogger and writer, as well as a principal/consultant with Vantage Clinical Solutions.