"Live long, and Prosper" - Spock character - Star Trek
It’s no secret that healthcare costs are spiraling out of control. In other industries, the problem(s) contributing to rising costs can be identified and quantified, and new solutions can be measured, compared with alternatives, and executed. The bulk of what I read in the media would lead to the conclusion that the technical and operational know-how that has been honed in other industries has somehow bypassed the Healthcare industry entirely.
However, I don’t think that’s the case. While it’s true that the nature of Healthcare brings some unique challenges, I think that a broader point is being missed. In my opinion, the problem is not that we have failed to optimize processes or innovate solutions adequately; it’s that we’ve become so good at it, we have created entirely different problems that the current system can no longer address. Technological advances to date have enabled people to live much longer than ever before. The problem is that no one is really prospering as a result of these improvements.
The other day the Financial Times published an article about how longer lives and western lifestyles have increased the diseases typically associated with old age – diseases that cannot be quickly solved with the technological advances we have seen to date.
These diseases require vastly different types of interventions which require significant amounts of routine follow-up, increased patient engagement, and behavior modification. These are interventions that the current Healthcare systems are not well designed to deliver. Traditional doctors have been trained to apply linear, objective solutions to well-documented problems; yet the behavioral solutions warranted by the diseases associated with longer life require health care providers who can apply non-linear, subjective solutions. They also don’t have the time to adequately deliver the routine follow-up, counseling or education required.
Every system is perfectly designed to achieve exactly the results it gets. - Arthur W. Jones
The current Healthcare system has largely succeeded in what it was originally designed to do – ensure that people live longer - and our spiraling costs are the unintended consequences of this success. These consequences present new types of problems, which require new types of solutions.
Consumer products companies learned long ago that the key to sustained growth is to apply an understanding of the motivations that drive the behavior of their markets they serve. These methods can be similarly applied to the Healthcare system. However, I find it ironic that in an industry that exists to improve the human condition, I see some of the greatest resistance to applying behavioral understanding to reinvent how they operate. Yes, the challenges are unique, but that only presents greater opportunities for reinvention.
We are living longer, but the key to improving prosperity for patients and the Healthcare system that serves them will not be found solely through greater investment in technological improvements. It will be found when we learn to completely reinvent the approach to Healthcare that embraces the messy, non-linear, behavioral and motivational drivers of care.
In my next post, I’ll point out some of the low-hanging fruit that can present an excellent opportunity to start.
Image credit – A Potpourri of Vestiges