I’ve been in the business of health care, by way of my mother, since elementary school. With a strong business background, but no medical training or experience, she opened a small health clinic in a strip mall, hoping to build a lucrative business. I would sit at the front desk after school doing homework while answering the phone and scheduling patients in a big spiral bound notebook. I learned about the intricacies of insurance billing, the challenges of pharmaceutical and patient privacy regulations, and watched as their processes and services evolved countless times to better serve patients.
Businesses and industries that succeed in the long run are those that embrace evolution as a key part of their DNA. In the short term, it can be very profitable to focus on providing a great service or product; in the long term, those that succeed are those that focus on fulfilling customer wants and needs. That great service or product might be what the customer wants or needs now, but customer goals change over time.
The health care industry has always existed to fulfill our desires for better health, but it’s only in the last decade or two that what we think of as contributing to our health has begun to change. Increased use of health care and improved technologies may not fulfill our goals of better health; rather, the evidence shows that increased economic opportunity, higher educational attainment, reliable housing and transportation, access to healthy foods, and other social factors have a greater impact on our health. In order for the health care industry to thrive, it will need to evolve to recognize and serve these new customer demands.
At February’s 2016 Colorado Health Report Card release, Karen McNeil-Miller, the Colorado Health Foundation’s President and CEO, spoke at length about “the business of health,” and how it extends far beyond the doctor’s office to include education, transportation, economic development, and every other sector of our economy. “We’re all in the health business,” she said. While that may not be a new idea, the implications are significant: it opens the door to countless new entrants into the health market and the potential for far-reaching changes to the industry. If, for example, we consider transportation to be an important part of access to health care, then we should bring transportation providers to the table for our health care planning conversations. At the same time, as our definition of health care evolves and broadens to include new voices and industries, we also have the opportunity for traditional health care to contribute to better community health in non-traditional ways.
Many efforts are already underway. Nationally and in Colorado, Medicaid is pursuing new strategies to connect patients to community organizations that provide social services. The BUILD Health Challenge is promoting innovative collaborations between health care and other organizations. Across the state, health alliances are bringing together diverse community leaders to pursue local health system change efforts. This work is the new business of health care—the future of the industry.
The small clinic that began as a financial opportunity has evolved over the past 25 years into my mother’s passionate mission to improve the lives of her neighbors and community. She always credits their success to being patient-focused, but I think it’s even a little more than that; they are committed to their patients’ best health, not just their patients’ best health care—although that’s important, too. As Colorado continues to strive toward a healthier future, I hope we’ll welcome new contributors in the business of health and embrace the evolution.