I send you blessings as a child of the universe.
I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion at the Estes Park Institute Conference on Jan. 22 in Scottsdale, Ariz. While most of the attendees complained about the cooler-than-expected local weather dipping down to the 20s during the five-day conference (and canceling more than few rounds of golf), it felt like spring to a native Chicagoan.
Ive heard about the Estes Park Institute for years, but Ive never attended or participated in one until the Scottsdale event. My task the morning of Jan. 22the first full day of the conferencewas twofold. First, I listened to a series of presentations by institute faculty members Stuart Altman, the famed healthcare economist; John Kitzhaber, healthcare reformer and past governor of Oregon; David Lawrence, who used to run Kaiser Permanente; and John Horty, the veteran healthcare lawyer. Then, I joined the quartet on stage and had to grill each noted healthcare expert on their presentations on behalf of the nearly 400 healthcare executives in the audience.
I attempted a few humorous opening remarks to warm up the panel and the crowd, but most of my quips fell flat. I thought deciding to call Kitzhaber John K. and Horty John H. during the 45-minute panel discussion was a great icebreaker. (Its what my kids do in school when they have classmates with the same first names.) But the steely eyed Kitzhaber just stared at me, and Horty didnt say a word, although Im pretty sure I know what he was thinking, and it wasnt something you could say to your classmates in second grade without going to the principals office.
After about 40 minutes of good give and take, I wrapped up the discussion with something I picked up from attendees during the previous evenings reception. Prior to the reception on Sunday evening, the attendees heard five presentations collectively dubbed, The Rapidly Evolving Health Care Delivery System. Horty, Kitzhaber and Lawrence gave presentations as did Richard YaDeau, a senior fellow of the institute, and Joseph Scherger, a professor of clinical family and preventive medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine. Each offered up their view of the U.S. healthcare system of the future, from increased use of robotics to coordinated patient care via the Internet to nonphysicians providing advanced medical care to genetic engineering. All concurred with Hortys prediction that the system would be entirely different in five to 10 years.
Well, thats all the attendees needed to hear to start a stampede to the open bar. Most were management teams from small to middle-sized hospitals. You could hear groups of administrators, their board officers and medical staff leaders groan at each prediction. At the reception, I bounced from table to table, asking them what they thought of the futuristic presentations, and their responses were consistent: The gap between the presenters description of the future healthcare and the attendees daily demands was huge, and, to many in attendance, virtually insurmountable. They expressed concern over their patients lack of access to even the most basic information technology. And they groused about their lack of capital to buy, install and use the latest IT innovations and medical technology. As one practice administrator said, You do things for love or money. And love only lasts so long.
That gap was evident in a pre-conference poll of about 120 of the registered attendees. Respondents ranked getting adequate reimbursement from commercial insurance carriers as the issue of most importance to their hospital. They ranked finding better ways to care for the uninsured as the most difficult issue to accomplish.
The following morning then, at the wrap of the panel discussion, I asked the luminaries how best the attendees could emotionally close the chasm between the demands of the healthcare system of the future and the daily demands of running a hospital or practice. Their answer in a word: optimism. It was enough to send many of the pessimistic attendees back into the hall looking for that open bar again. Now, I didnt stay until the end of the conference three days later. So, perhaps by the end of the meeting, the attendees were convinced they could change healthcare for the better. And maybe that was the point of the entire experience. To improve, youve got to set aside the day-to-day worries and think about whats truly possible.
If youre wondering where the first line of this column originated, its from Leland Kaiser, the noted healthcare guru and the institutes senior fellow in health futures and spirituality (Yes, thats really his title). I dropped by his conference track aimed at executives (as opposed to medical staff leaders and trustees), where he was teaching CEOs and administrators about the 108 (or was it 180?) wisdom principles, or natural laws that guide the universe and connect everything to everything else. In one example of how all this works, Kaiser recommended against cussing at or making a rude hand gesture to a driver who just cut you off in traffic. By sending that person a negative message, he or she likely will continue to have negative experiences all day, affecting even more people in a bad way. According to Kaiser, the better response would be to say to the other driver: I send you blessings as a child of the universe. That positive message will turn that persons day around, positively affecting other people who come in contact with that person.
Im going to try that the next time Im in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway leaving Chicago at 5 p.m. on a hot August day. If I dont get my window shot out, Ill let you know.
Kaiser also told the crowd that theres no time sequencing in the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th dimension. I missed the first reference to that wisdom principle, so I have no clue what he was talking about. Still, Id like to see a CEO say that at a board meeting during an earnings discussion. Maybe it has something to do with backdating stock options.