Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Up and Down Behavior

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I am going to make a healthy behavior change. My inspiration came from watching a video on HealthWatchMD.com in which Dr. Randy Martin told me that sitting at my desk and in meetings all day is bad for my health, even if I go to the gym after work. Despite my packed workdays, I think I can take five-minute breaks a few times a day to walk the stairs in my office building.

The sad part is that I probably have a better chance of following through if my employer (Piedmont Healthcare) were to pay me a nickel for every stair I climbed.

“You’d think being healthy is enough, but it’s not,” says Ronald E. Bachman, one of the nation’s foremost experts on healthcare consumerism. (A benefit of writing this blog is having an excuse to invite brilliant thinkers like Ron to breakfast to talk about the future of healthcare.)

Being healthy isn’t enough?

New evidence continually shows that we are becoming less healthy as a nation. A study released last month showed obesity rates are rising in every state. Obesity is linked to a host of dangerous and expensive health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Ron sees employers as the best way out of this unhealthy mess.

“It’s about engaging people with financial incentives and rewards to make better health behavioral choices,” he says. Employers have the best opportunity to experiment with different incentives in their employee health insurance plans to learn what makes people change, says Ron.

I am depressed with the idea that healthy behavioral change, at least on a broad scale, can only be achieved through some form of paying people off.

In addition to finding the right financial incentive, says Ron, employers should provide the information needed to educate consumers. He describes the information gap as “the weakest” point in current system.

This was one of the reasons we created HealthWatchMD.com – to provide health information, specifically easy to understand explanations about new developments in medicine and healthcare. Dr. Martin’s segment on July 29 about the dangers of workplace sitting caused me to change my behavior as I described above.

But, there is other evidence that even when the information to guide a healthier lifestyle is available, it doesn’t inspire most people to actually change. Studies on the outcomes of requiring restaurants in some cities to post the calorie count for the items on their menu have recently been released. The expectation that providing calories counts will lead to healthier choices by consumers has met with mostly a thud, or more appropriately, a belch. One study from 2009 showed that people actually manage to increase their calorie intakes when the numbers were available.

Maybe we are just very early in the process of providing people with information to guide healthy lifestyles and it will take some time to change actions and habits.

At least the stairs at work won’t be crowded for while.

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  1. Michael Rovinsky
    Posted August 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Employers are the one participant in the current healthcare system that come close to having an incentive to keep people healthy and help them help themselves in this regard, but their motivation is mitigated by the short-term earnings requirements of the stock market, and the payoff for focusing on health and wellness is very long-term in nature, and the direct correlation between the initiative and the result may never be able to be demonstrated. Not that employers should be disuaded from exploring initiatives in this arena; I just doubt it will prove to be a widespread and long-lasting pursuit.

    So, is there any player in the healthcare system with any real incentive to assume stewardship over the cost and quality of healthcare in the United States? Anyone? And how do we get individuals to join in this effort when we, as Americans, all have to make sure our personal rights are protected at all times, no matter what it costs (people have the right to smoke cigarettes, don’t they?) and without a shred of accountability for our choices and behavior? I’m just asking …

  2. Posted August 17, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Ed is looking at the right areas to discover solutions for better health and healthcare. The key is to reinstate the one to one relationship between patient and physician. Get the third party meddlers out the way. Healthcare consumerism is the avenue to achieve that result. That is, empowering patients with information (decision support tools) and incentives. Copnnect the physician and patient without the reimbursement strings of CPT and ICD codes. Ed’s lament about incentives shouldn’t be a concern. We are typically American. We want to be paid to do the right things (I got an allowance for taking out the garbage as a kid 0 didn’t you?). Besides, don’t physicians mainly do those seervices for which they get paid. If doing the “right” thing for them was all that is needed we would likely see more telephone,email, and telmedicine communications between physicians and patients.

    Ed – keep on keeping on! Your journey of discivery and communication of factual findings is refreshing and shows real leadership.

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“Hi, I’m Ed Lovern, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. I created this blog to share my thoughts on the healthcare revolution and how we can all be part of the solution. Feel free to comment or email me your thoughts – I would love to have your contributions and feedback.”
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  • Comments

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