Letter from the Editor: Blue Zone

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R.J. King
R.J. King

Here’s a big question: Why isn’t every hospital in metro Detroit, the United States, and the world striving to give their communities Blue Zone status?

The measure of a healthy population, a Blue Zone identifies a given geographic area where people live measurably longer, experience a very low incidence of disease, and enjoy a healthier, richer lifestyle marked by friendship and camaraderie.

Yes, these places exist, but mostly in secluded settings. Author and researcher Dan Buettner, in his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From People Who’ve Lived the Longest, identified five such regions: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and an area settled by Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calif.

What these regions have in common is a high concentration of centenarians (people 100 years old), natural food sources free of pesticides with an emphasis on a mostly vegetarian diet, people who pursue daily and moderate physical activity, and very low rates of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use.

Other attributes include an emphasis on family relationships, setting obtainable goals, engagement in religion or spirituality, reducing stress through meditation, and moderate calorie intake. 

While our Western civilization has made incredible discoveries and introduced countless innovations, it has also come at a high cost. The Industrial Revolution propelled the stunning growth of the middle class over the last century and raised living standards overall, but it led to such daily stresses as meeting deadlines, traffic jams, operating just-in-time delivery schedules and, now, the almost incessant need to be connected to the digital space.

Given the chaos that progress can create in our lives, how can hospitals help affect positive change? Surely we can’t expect our healthcare systems to solve this problem on their own, but they can and should be community leaders when it comes to cultivating healthier neighborhoods.

Immediate outcomes include maximizing profits and using those earnings to improve patient care and wellness. That includes eliminating billing departments and streamlining supply chain operations, and conducting that work in the cloud, which will save millions of dollars annually. 

Hospitals also must demand that their end suppliers provide accurate pricing data rather than relying on getting that information from middle managers, insurers, drug providers, device-makers, and others who have a vested interested in preserving the status quo.

Say what you will about Obamacare — and while there are plenty of shortcomings — one three-word phrase, “cap on reimbursements,” means hospitals can no longer re-bill insurers for a botched operation or a procedure. The measure has upset the common practice where nearly every sector of the health care paradigm charged a little more each year for their services so they could record a modest profit.

Lastly, employers large and small must demand pricing transparency throughout the health care sector. Rather than writing a check each year to cover the health care costs of their employees, organizations in the private and public sector must demand that hospitals and suppliers share their pricing policies instead of relying on data that is easily manipulated by those who have little accountability (meaning the middle segment of the market, which separates hospitals from suppliers).

Resistance to such transparency will be unavoidable, given so many forces will be against it.

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com

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