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Discussing 'Accountable Care Organizations' On Your iPhone?

Ask yourself why the economy tanked health spending but not iPhone sales.  The takeaway: today a friend tweeted the following: "...the American health system is as large as the entire Italian economy...and just as disorganized."   Maybe while we're all morphing into "accountable care organizations,' we should first think 'ecosystem.'  Maybe you have one in your pocket.  I know I do.

The trendwatchers among us know that recent economic unpleasantries caused  frugal shoppers to cut back on many things - homes, cars, appliances, cigarettes and toilet paper.  Even health care, once thought to be relatively recession-proof,  suffered as care was canceled or deferred.

Yet as anybody tracking Apple Computer's unbroken string of blowout quarters could have told you, spending in certain categories - smart phones and laptop computers, e.g. - held up relatively well. 

So let's compare and contrast.  Whether you call it a good or a service, health care is without question the most personal, intimate long-term priority in any human's daily life.  Yet health spending tanked right along with the economy.  Apple sells stylish hunks of glass, plastic and silicon, things few need but many crave.  And consumers kept spending.

Do these diverging results strike you as worthy of further investigation?  If not, you'd better move on to the next blog. 

As lessons learned, first let's dispense with the notion that the business cycle doesn't apply to health care.  The same "experts" deeming health care "recession-proof" probably said the same thing about the housing market.

And maybe we can all agree that, tragically, consumers' pursuit of short-term pleasure over long-term health often results in neither.  Buying a new phone instead of getting a necessary EKG, for example, is a bad long-term tradeoff if a heart attack lurks.

But perhaps it also says health care's "brand strategists" still have a ways to go to make that most intimate and personal of all goods - our health - more relevant than a hunk of stylish plastic.

Apple's iPhone is no longer the technology leader in its category.  Other phones offer better individual features - better cameras, higher speeds, multi-tasking.  Yet it's not just about the phone.  Consumers love Apple's "ecosystem," believing it works to their own advantage and not minding - preferring, in fact - the lock-in of the phone, thousands of apps, iTunes, all integrated and intuitive, all working together.

Health care providers considering the concept of "accountable care organizations" as part of their response to health reform have a once-in-a-career opportunity to create something just as seamless and compelling, something integrated and intuitive, something that consumers feel operates in THEIR OWN best long-term interest and not that of some faceless bureaucracy.   

Can this be done?  Consider me sufficiently Pollyannish to offer a "Heck Yes!"  But only if we broaden our thinking and the search for ideas well beyond health care's accepted "truths" and standard operating procedures.

Only if radically creative (or maybe it's creatively radical) definitions are applied to terms like 'accountable' and 'care' and 'organization.'

Only if we open ourselves up to the possibility that consumers ought to be firmly in control of their health and the organizations trusted to improve it should do more listening and less talking.

Only if we accept that those very same consumers deserve to be intimately involved in building those organizations to their own benefit.

 Only if a whole bunch of health care 'brands' engage in some long-overdue soul searching to determine what it is they really stand for and are willing to deliver.  Then, maybe, health care will be as recession-resistant as stylish plastic.  And we'll be better off for it.


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