Health Management & Sustainability - It's Not a Sprint, It's a Marathon

Sustainability. Seems like I can't leave the house/office without tripping over the latest initiative to reduce waste, conserve resources, build green and construct a school/neighborhood/vehicle for the environmentally friendly future. Don't get me wrong - this is a good thing.

Fortunately, there's much more to the concept than laying a snazzy new bamboo floor or buying fluorescent bulbs (although that's a good start, and I really do like the look partnered with a concrete recycled particulate kitchen counter...).

Hospital/healthcare entities have more of an opportunity than most to move towards true sustainability...what could be more vital to sustain than a human life (other than collective human health)?

So here's the question: Does sustainability (in every sense of the word) have a necessary role to play in our mission as healing organizations? What about the opportunity to progress from a perspective of siloed, disparate disease treatments towards managing a person's well-being along interconnected points on a larger, circular health continuum?

If this all sounds a bit too Kumbaya, let me get back to basics. One of my favorite monthly reads, MediaPost's Media magazine, ran a great article in the Feb 07 issue. In "Green Marketing: Fresh Marketing Perspective," Lynn Russo Whylly (p.7) quotes Will Brent, SVP of Weber Shandwick.

"Sustainability is becoming the benchmark entry point," says Brent. "Companies that don't embrace it are going to be behind the eight ball. Whether it's from a natural-resources perspective or business-health perspective, or consumer-perception point of view, those are all things that encompass sustainability; without it, you'll be losing out." Thanks Will. Well said.

So is sustainability simply the continuum of care examined through another lens? It's all about the sustainability of health, for each individual consumer, at each point in his/her life where help and healing is needed most.

A vast oversimplification, it's true, however, can sustainability act as a synonym to health management? Would putting a new face on an old debate help us break out of the disease/discharge/disease cycle?

Hospitals (some) have gotten better at seeing and serving micro segments of the market...communicating with specific consumers inside traditional service lines (with offerings like prenatal yoga, diabetic cooking classes for young adults, etc.).

But these efforts are still centered on a condition, not a consumer. Service lines are still primarily oriented around ways to treat disease, and therein lies the rub.

Hospitals have historically considered patients to be in one of three 'phases of matter' (excuse the pun, and no, I'm not referring to solid, liquid, or gas):
1. Alive.
2. Dead.
3. Sick (the huge gray area between 'alive' and 'dead').

So how does your administrative/executive team view patients, really? How do you define "health management" and your organization's obligation to provide it? Are we doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? How does your organization rectify profit & loss with holistic health management and evidence based practice?

We sustain their health, they sustain our budget (or not), but can the partnership be more caring and symbiotic? As a patient, as a person, as a professional with an optimistic outlook on the future of the field, I hope so.

PS - If you want to move your hospital from the theoretical (vision of care) to the practical (physical environment of care) in terms of sustainability, check out the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment Program (H2E). Visit www.h2e-online.org.

Disclaimer: No, I am not an H2E staff member, but I have toured H2E partner hospitals and they're doing great, green things. A bit about H2E from their site:

"H2E was jointly founded by the American Hospital Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Care Without Harm, and the American Nurses Association. To achieve our vision, mission and goals, H2E is educating health care professionals about pollution prevention opportunities and providing a wealth of practical tools and resources to facilitate the industry’s movement toward environmental sustainability."

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