The recent spate of research illuminating the image problems facing healthcare providers is a reality check that deserves analysis and action.
The American Hospital Association deserves credit for acknowledging the perception gap and sponsoring research that spotlights the negative feelings patients have about providers.
The public is losing faith in healthcare at a time when a great deal of lip service is paid to healthier communities, the healing environment and the mission of caring.
Patients are losing faith in healthcare at a time when hospitals are posting record profits and forming powerhouse delivery networks.
Furthermore, patients are losing faith in healthcare at a time when physicians bellyache about eroding income potential and the horrors of an onerous malpractice system.
Please excuse the patient for feeling like a lowly pawn in a $1 trillion industry more concerned about money than medicine, more preoccupied with profit than people. When does the accountability begin and the scramble for the almighty dollar end?
But talking about flaws and taking concrete action to correct them are two distinct things. It's like people who dwell on being overweight or drinking too much, yet fail to take the steps necessary to overcome their problems.
That's why the AHA's pledge of accountability is an interesting twist in the ongoing drive to sway public opinion. Many healthcare executives can push all the right motivational buttons when talking about mission, integrity and performance excellence. The real determinant of success, however, focuses on accountability and measuring outcomes, be they clinical, financial or operational.
For starters, the AHA board has issued a put-up-or-shut-up challenge for hospitals to contribute to a 10% reduction in the number of uninsured Americans. While short on detail, the numerical specifics draw everybody's attention to a goal. Lobbying for health insurance guarantees for children and encouraging insurance pools for small employers are worthy strategies.
Even more impressive, however, are the financial commitments of hospitals and healthcare systems that go beyond charity care, wellness fairs and other indicators used to justify service to the community. One example: Memorial Hospital of South Bend (Ind.) vows to tithe 10% of its bottom line to fund community initiatives, including providing health insurance to 300 working poor families for two years.
If every hospital in America took Memorial's pledge, the AHA's target would have a nice dent in it.