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First, Let’s Blow Up All the Hospitals

By Kim Bellard, August 27, 2018 

A few recent stories are, I believe, reaffirming one of the big problems about healthcare: hospitals are 19th century institutions operating under 20th century business models in the 21st century. It’s time to rethink what we want a “hospital” to be.

The Boston Globe reported on Stanford’s new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which cost a cool $1.3 billion and is touted as, of course, the “hospital of the future.” As they describe it, it doesn’t look like a hospital at all, but rather: “It is some hybrid of hotel, museum, and high-tech laboratory.” The Globe notes a similarly ambitious, $1.2 billion renovation at Boston Children’s, along with big hospital projects in numerous other cities.

The problem is that hospitals are big and getting bigger, going from building to buildings to campuses. They are expensive and getting more expensive. At some point, we have to ask: is this really how we want to spend our healthcare dollar?

Some hospitals are figuring other ways to spend their — I mean, “our” — money on our health. Take Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Located in a somewhat blighted neighborhood of Columbus (OH), its Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families (HNHF) program “treats the neighborhood as the patient,” as their summary in Pediatrics put it.

The hospital is leading a partnership that has built 58 affordable housing units, renovated 71 homes, given out 158 home improvement projects, and helped spur a 58 unit housing/office development. They’ve also hired 800 local residents and instituted a jobs training program. They’re already seeing lower murder rates, higher high school graduation rates, and are studying impacts on emergency room visits, inpatient days, and rates of specific conditions such as asthma.

“This is a national trend,” Jason Corburn, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, told NPR. “It’s happening in cities across the country,” citing similar efforts in Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Seattle.

It is true that hospitals (excuse me, “health systems”) are diversifying — building/buying satellite locations, free-standing emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and physician practices — but those big buildings remain the locus, and their sunk costs weigh on hospitals’ finances.

There’s a great quote from Philip Betbeze of HealthLeaders: “the future of the hospital is not a hospital.” The future requires, as Richard Darch, CEO of Archusmore recently wrote, “radically and fundamentally rethinking the hospital, and even discarding the term ‘hospital’ to the history books.”

I’d go further: not a building, not even a campus, but as a dispersed array of services — some medical, many not — that are delivered as close to our homes as possible (and, preferably, in our homes).

It requires us blowing up our concept of a “hospital.”

Don’t donate money for hospital expansion/renovation plans. Don’t buy bonds for them either. Don’t sit passively on hospital boards that push for them or expensive new equipment.Instead, we should be questioning: how can a “hospital” most impact our communities’ health? What kinds of investments in our communities’ health can they be making? How we do push healthcare and health down as close to where and how people live as possible?

The argument will always be, well, payors won’t pay for those kinds of things. The business models don’t support them. To that I say: it’s time not just for new kinds of “hospitals,” but also new kinds of business models.

Let’s get to it.

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting


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