Cultivating the Good in American Healthcare

July 3, 2017

By: Jonathan Bush, CEO and Co-founder at athenahealth

Too often, we get caught up with the bad guys of healthcare, the challenges that we’ve been working day and night to overcome. You know the ones—lack of connectivity between care settings, restrictive federal regulations, over-prescribing, unnecessary operations, lack of insight into price, the list goes on. I know I often spend my days grappling with what’s keeping us from getting American healthcare where it should be, focusing primarily on the stoppages and pushing back against the people, organizations, and technologies that seem to be causing them.

I was reminded of this last week, when I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Atul Gawande, jack of all healthcare trades and a generally wonderful person. He was being honored not just for his work in healthcare, but for his contribution to the arts—opening up conversations about being vulnerable and being human in moments of pain. I asked him how he does that, how he manages to find optimism in challenging situations in one of the most challenging industries.

“I distrust the belief that healthcare is all about the bad guys,” he responded.

Near the end of our talk, I prodded Atul a bit more about this. “Be a U.S. exceptionalist for a moment,” I poked. “What is your optimistic, vivid vision of what the U.S. can contribute to transform the power of healthcare?”

In a rousing fit of patriotism—in the midst of the 4th of July holiday—he spoke to the notion that, in a country where all people are created equal, all lives inherently have the same worth. We just forget that sometimes. And I couldn’t agree more.

I sincerely believe that we are in a win-win situation in healthcare, even though it doesn’t feel like it right now. While Atul and I may not agree on how to win in healthcare—how reform needs to happen or where we should focus first—we both know that something profound and drastic needs to happen, sooner rather than later. We are undoubtedly in the midst of massive global change in this industry, but we keep getting caught in the weeds of organizational hierarchies and zip codes. Our country depends on our capability to step across divides, have the difficult conversations, and unite together to chip away at some of the fundamental flaws of the healthcare system.

That’s the key, I think, to actually fixing healthcare today: It’s more than just working toward the future, but bringing a sense of humanity to the way we go about it.

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