Even as you read this the tone for this year may already have been set. Whether patients and your organization's staff will remember this year in healthcare as a success or disappointment was up for grabs at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1.
What were you doing? While you were dancing the night away, did you leave your pager on in case there was a crisis in the emergency room? Did you turn off your cell phone when dinner was being served? Or did you leave it on hoping to get an update on a sick child's condition?
Whatever you did that night created an impression of healthcare professionals outside the workplace.
Expert after expert has warned of double-digit increases this year in health insurance premiums, employer healthcare costs, prices for hospital and physician services and overall spending on healthcare services. That may be welcome financial news if you're on the receiving end of that revenue and you've got a good handle on your expenses. But the legacy of 2002 won't be about whether those economic forecasts came true.
The legacy of 2002 will be what the healthcare industry did with all that money.
How many new hospitals were built? And where were they built? In urban areas in need of rejuvenated healthcare services or in booming, wealthy suburbs?
Did physician practices add specialists based on their patients' needs? Or just some high-profile doctors who brought in the big bucks?
Did health insurers add benefits or expand their service areas? Or did they use their wealth to buy other plans and increase their market power?
What about all the health researchers out there? Suppliers? Vendors? Medicare and Medicaid programs? Healthcare trade associations? And newly formed blue-ribbon panels on rising costs and other healthcare issues? (How many of those are there now? I lost count.) What did they do individually or collectively to expand access, control costs and improve quality? Or, did they spend their money on another stream of reports and awards while fighting to maintain the status quo?
If, at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2003, the healthcare industry didn't do anything with all that money, you might as well turn off your pager and your cell phone and keep on dancing.