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Look Up! The Stars Are Aligning for Prevention and Wellness!

By Cyndy Nayer, September 20, 2011

I’m thinking this evening of the amazing journey we’ve begun together, and I’m thinking about the conversation I had with Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General, who will open our Annual Meeting and Innovation Summit on Nov 14.  Each of our phone calls is such a delight.  Imagine being able to call the woman who “explained” to Congress how teenagers need more guidance, and to ask her some of the hard questions on national health policy!

I’ve been very lucky in this career of mine.  I’ve been blessed to work with some of the most amazing folks at every turn.  What’s remarkable is that so many of us know the real gold in health care is not the care itself, but in making HEALTH the goal of our endeavors.  What’s exciting now is that many of us “passionate idealists” are working hard to make sure that the improvement in health is the #1 priority, and that health care becomes one of the tools to get there.

Each of us approaches this in different ways.  For instance, Brian Klepper, whom you often read about when you read my writings, is passionately moving the needle on Primary Care Providers, blogging on Health Affairs and causing a ruckus with the RUC (the panel that sets clinician reimbursement rates, the panel that is so very much under-represented by primary care physicians).  Brian’s efforts are getting bolder and growing stronger, and I am an ardent supporter of the efforts to be sure that Primary Care gets equivalent pay that shows their importance in the health engagement and promotion that keeps people well, working, and building healthier, prosperous communities.

Another good friend is Ron Loeppke, MD MPH, whom I’ve know for far too many years to remember.  Ron’s passion is now directed to his new job, as Vice Chairman of the Board, U.S. Preventive Medicine, Inc. (traansparency: I have the honor of serving on the board with Ron and so many of our mutual friends).  Ron is also the past Chair of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), and has chaired the Health and Productivity section for as long as I can remember.  Recently, Ron wrote an op-ed piece on the need for preventionists, and it’s posted on the ACOEM site.  Ron has been a driving force for linking worksite health to worksite performance, and we’ve had the joy of sharing many conferences, slides and ideas together.  As he says in the article:

The clinical science of preventive medicine focuses on wellness and health promotion and health risk assessment to keep people healthy (primary prevention); and early identification/diagnosis of illness through age/gender/risk appropriate screening and biometric testing (secondary prevention); as well as earlier evidence-based intervention/treatment to deter complications and the disabling impact of conditions (tertiary prevention). The preventive health care movement reaches well beyond the four walls of medical facilities to include workplace health and community health initiatives. 

I quote this as others in the space of value-based designs do not see the ROI of prevention and wellness.  But think about it:  if we can prevent the high cost interventions, if we can build intrinsic desire for health and accountability to save our health, the saved dollars will go far to build healthier communities.  The companies that tell me that they cannot focus on health, that they only want to get the costs down, are doing themselves, their families, and their communities a disservice.  Simply stated, if the company gets 80% or more of its workforce from the geographic community, then there is an 80% chance that the next person coming to get a job will have the same risk factors as the person who just left.  Want more proof?  Google Ron and start reading.

And on the topic of value-based designs, another friend I’ve been very much in contact with lately is Mike Critelli, the former CEO of Pitney Bowes who is now the Chair and CEO of Dossia, which is so very much more than a Personal Health Record.  Under Mike’s direction, Dossia is quickly growing into the family and community health management tool that I have been hoping for, building the capacity of families to “gather” into one record that the head of the family health improvement plan (usually the mom, folks, that’s been my story all along!), can manage.  With the strong support of a very talented group of programmers, community health improvement experts, international IT experts, and more that are too many to name, the group at Dossia is getting grand traction around the country, and I am, of course, delighted to have them on the CHVI board.  We share many strong ideas of accessibility and accountability, and then we work with our different constituencies to influence change as far and as fast as possible.

It’s stunning, isn’t it, that we expect an “engaged, accountable patient,” yet the patient gets no records, has virtually no decision-making authority except how much he/she is willing to spend out of his/her own pocket for care.  Yet, that’s not the accountable consumer we want.  We want a consumer who protects the health of herself, her family, her community.  We know, from research published by another renowned colleague, Dee Edington (of Univ of Michigan fame), that an engaged consumer of health has costs 30% lower than one who is unengaged.  We know that reducing risks from hi to moderate lowers costs 33%–that’s what happens when people are engaged, not entitled and waiting for the system to cure them.

Yes, I’m quite lucky, indeed.  Yes, I’ve used this opportunity to highlight the amazing work of my friends and colleagues AND to link to our upcoming summit, because I’m excited about our mission, and I’m excited that they will all be there with us.

Maybe, too,  as I watch the sun set over the beautiful SW Florida sky this evening, the stars really are aligning.  Perhaps we’ve squeezed as much value out of the delivery system as we can–and remember, most of the dollars, all $2.6 Trillion of them, are focused on the 10-20% of folks who are not so committed to health promotion or prevention.  Maybe now that the economics of health is so very important to understand, the stars are ready to assist.  Perhaps the stars, whose light has to travel so very far to be seen, have finally arrived in sight–and those of us who have spent so very many years promoting health, are finally being seen as well.  Perhaps the focus on outcomes allows all of us to ask the question, “How do we short-circuit the path to achieving these outcomes?”  and we can, finally, all get quiet while the stars’ universe responds, “It’s in the path to health promotion.”

It’s a wonderful night to dream of what could be, to imagine that there is a growing focus on health, outcomes, and healthy communities.  Tonight I’m not going to focus on this paradise’s need for jobs, affordable care, and primary care clinicians.  Tonight I’m going to hope and pray and dream of the US as healthy, prosperous, and job-wealthy.  I believe that’s what the stars are showing us.  If we’ll only look up, they will tell us that nothing is impossible.

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