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Shifting Healthcare Services Dollars to Acute Disease Research

Posted by Joe Antle on May 21, 2019 9:15 AM EDT
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The case for improving population health is getting increasingly important due to the aging population and the continued increase in healthcare costs.  While politics are ugly, and the rules and regulations are....

...complicated and difficult to understand, compelling evidence continues to grow in terms of the benefits of improving population health.  For me personally, a couple of recent recollections of experiences from years ago in the Triad region of North Carolina capture a compelling "Why" as to the reasons we need to get even bolder in our efforts at building stronger consumer awareness and motivation to live healthier lives and reduce their individual and collective healthcare spending so that we can reinvest those dollars into more research around acute disease cures and disease state management.

Let me begin by offering a look back.  Although personal and significant to me, the experiences of more than thirty years ago in a one-year period in North Carolina strike me now as profound upon reflection.  

Many of you may know that I spent more than thirty years in local media-primarily as an advertising manager and executive in the newspaper business and in local online and digital media solutions.  Near the end of my career, I had an opportunity to be an executive with Media General for a little over three years.  And during that time, I had responsibility for helping six of our "strategic market areas"-regions where the company had a newspaper, television station and integrated online and digital media assets in place.  During that time, we found that significant socio-economic issues were present in all of these markets and they provided an impetus to develop and deploy innovative solutions that could unlock dollars from non-traditional marketing partners.  Issues such as improving public education, strengthening civic engagement, building better family bonds, improving healthcare and overall population health and driving economic development and prosperity improvements reigned as key areas to explore and "invest a little and learn a lot".  For newspapers, these were mostly "blue oceans" of opportunity and there wasn't much downside.  Add in that the "strategic purpose" of the newspaper as a media was to use our assets to help make the communities we served to become better places to live, raise a family and work.  You probably get the picture classic doing well by doing good.  

During that time and ever since I have become totally enamored by the need to improve population health and to take volume out of the traditional healthcare system and shift the investment from saved healthcare dollars to improving consumer health-through healthier lifestyles, better consumer healthcare spending practices and through research to solve the draconian diseases of our time-cancer, mental health/substance abuse, diabetes, and heart disease.  Focusing efforts in support of prevention and recovery seemed then and now as the key opportunities for taking costs out of the healthcare system and reinvesting them in better solutions for solving the mysteries of acute disease such as cancer, heart disease etc.

For me, the urgency has increased as has the importance.  And now healthcare costs represent almost 20% of GDP and perhaps more than 25% if the definition is broadened to include not just healthcare but the costs of living healthier lives through better nutrition, physical fitness, financial stability  and social and community wellbeing,

But going back to the Triad region of North Carolina....

Years before my time at Media General and my lofty perch over such interesting and important work as overseeing innovation and integrated formulations (Media General called it "convergence) of media assets to drive new revenues and community improvement assets, I served as Director of Advertising for the Greensboro News and Record.  Not to date myself, but this was during the late 1980s through mid-1990s.  While there, and before textiles moved overseas, we enjoyed enormous opportunities for revenue growth through innovative ideas.  We launched many new "products", expanded our presence and financial success in automotive events (The News and Record Auto Show) and real estate home building events (The Showcase of Homes) and in community service (News and Record Centennial celebration and the annual GGO PGA event).

Heady times and ones I recollect most fondly...

We also were the first newspaper to come out against tobacco smoking in public places (Guilford County was the heart of tobacco country).  And we were the first newspaper in the land to move to "paid obituary announcements".  Both moves were very controversial at the time and both caused much consternation amongst many members of the Triad citizenry.

So, where is this blog now going, you must be asking yourself?

While that was a different time, smoking and its impact through lung cancer have largely been eliminated amongst the general population.  Through class action suits and a general reduction in second-hand exposure to tobacco smoke, today we see much less public cost going into curing the dreaded effects of tobacco smoking. And now we see a very interesting set of ongoing and important obituaries.  Almost all newspapers enable consumers to up-purchase from a small free obituary announcement to a rich one, full of details and often very interesting stories of lives well-lived.

This past week several obituaries ran for men and women in their thirties.  That is too young an age to die.   Clearly, these deaths were tied to dreaded diseases such as cancer or perhaps to substance use disorder, overdoses and auto accidents due to alcohol.  Cancer is an area we need to step up our research and curing capacity.  And SUD is something that can be resolved and managed but will require large changes in population awareness and practices-luck like the resolution we have benefited from tobacco smoking.

So, in conclusion, even though this look back memory lane may be deeply personal, it is a reminder that over time, with focus and commitment and new ideas, we can overcome the scourge of poor health and regain better lives.  A blend of consumer change, policy-making and assertive new solutions can help us get ahead of the continuing increases in the costs and the societal damage caused by poor health and an overburdened healthcare system.

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