Understanding the problem

All the recent controversy over healthcare reform has me a bit mystified. Without taking sides or wishing to step on any political toes, I think the problem is that we’ve never actually defined the problem. With healthcare, that is.

I’m conducting a series of brainstorming sessions for a multinational oil and gas logistics company, the purpose of which is to equip and empower employees to step forward with ideas to improve the company’s operating efficiency. We spend a lot of time in the seminar defining the problems they wish to talk about.

The problems we examine in these day-long seminars are real-life situations attendees see in their everyday jobs. They think they know what the problems are without having to actually state them. But when I force them to stand at an easel and write the problem in simple, straight-forward language, they spit and sputter. And disagreements emerge quickly.

You can see the same thing with healthcare reform. It almost looks like someone decided the problem was insurance – either the cost is too high or not enough people have it. And I’m sure there’s some truth to both of those points. But when you look at insurance company financial reports, it doesn’t seem their profits are out of line. I’ve yet to read an article comparing U.S. insurance costs with those in other countries. Are we paying too much? If so, why is that?

You could just as easily make the argument that the healthcare problem is our antiquated record-keeping system. I love the GE Medical Systems TV spot where a doctor is sitting in an exam room with a patient and asks if the patient has ever been tested for something. When the patient struggles to remember, the camera pulls back to reveal an amphitheater full of other medical professionals who begin to call out the patients complete record.

This scenario certainly rings true in my case. I can’t remember what medical treatments I had last year, much less five or ten years ago. So it’s very likely that money has been wasted unsuccessfully treating me for the same thing or ignoring something that probably does need attention. If my current doctor had access to the whole record, I’m sure things would be better.

And don’t get me started about malpractice suits. How much extra cost is built into our healthcare system to cover legal fees, insurance and unnecessary, play-it-safe prescriptions and testing recommended by doctors who are just trying to cover their backsides?

I think if someone had forced our congressional representatives to write out the healthcare problem before they started developing a solution, the results would have been substantially different. Certainly it wouldn’t be necessary for our president to crisscross the nation, “selling” the results of that legislation to a very unhappy and skeptical American public.

If you’re clear about the problem, the right solution is easy to embrace. That’s what I tell my brainstorming seminar students anyway.

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