The Business of Health Care

What Health Reform Can Learn from the Environmental Movement

Over past few years, we’ve seen numerous articles about impact of the environment changes on the health of our population.  They range from increased rates and severity of respiratory disease to the resurgence of infectious diseases due to increasing temperatures.   However, it hadn’t really occurred to me until this weekend while attending a film festival in Colorado (name undisclosed because I don’t want it to get more crowded!) that there were interesting parallels between the environmental and health care reform movements.

And while this should probably not be a surprise given that healthcare and the environment are two of the most “wicked problems” facing our country – tough to describe, multiple causes and not easily solved with one answer – I nevertheless was intrigued by the similarities.

1)      Local, local, local– The environmental movement has finally figured out that change will only occur if you make the issues local – it’s not just about the planet but about your backyard.  (My father who could not hear me utter the word climate change without breaking into hives or leaving the room, recently told me he thinks “something may be happening because the fish in the river he spends half his days on are starting to die”)   Those of us in healthcare have known forever that the organization, delivery and financing of healthcare is local.  And while the biggest changes over the past few years have been driven by government policy, the tough part lies ahead and will only be successful because of the actions at the local level.

2)      Show me the money- Whether it’s the environment or healthcare – until it impacts the consumer’s bottom line (property damage, rising gas prices, higher out of pocket expenses), it can be tough to get a majority of people to devote their time and energy to change.   In healthcare we are still in the early days but are starting to see the impact of people having to pay more out of pocket for their medical care.  Time will tell whether the impact is all positive, but at least we are recognizing that financial incentives can play a key role in changing behavior.

3)      CMO power– I’ve been told numerous times that the most effective catalysts for environmental change are moms who want to leave the world a better place for their children.  The next decade in health will be about the rise of the CMOs – the millions of unpaid chief medical/mom officers who are struggling to balance caring for their children, parents, spouses and friends.  They will demand more convenience and better quality at lower costs.  Understanding the motivations of this market will be critical to success.   (Note to health care organizations who do not have female senior execs or board members – beware of your market share.)

4)      Habits – Whether it’s about taking public transportation and eliminating the use of plastic bags, or exercising more and eating healthier – it’s about changing habits.  Behavior change is hard no doubt but the last decade has brought us a significantly greater understanding of the role of neurology and psychology in the formation of habits.  We now understand why habits form and how we can change them and that new behaviors need to be easy, rewarded, and supported by our social network.   We are starting to see the results of these learnings being incorporated into new products, services and messages to the end consumer.

I left Mountain Film feeling inspired but a bit depressed about the environmental movement.  Many of the experts at the conference seemed to be so tired with the fight.  Climate change is a hard sell – it’s difficult to perceive and not enough people believe they have had a strong enough personal experience with it to force change.

However on the plane home as I got back to work, I started thinking about the digital healthcare space and how I’m more optimistic than ever.  The argument has at least shifted from something needs to be done to how do we fix the problem.  We’ve finally turned a corner in large part due to government policy and there is no going back.

As opposed to the oil and gas industry that continues to spend hundreds of billions searching for more fossil fuel deposits, we’re starting to see many healthcare industry leaders such as Aetna, UCLA and a handful of pharmaceutical companies acknowledging that the world is changing and they can’t survive doing business as usual (now we just have to do something about all the new fancy hospitals being built).  I’m optimistic about the road ahead – it will be bumpy and we will no doubt encounter many detours and alternate routes but at least we are headed in the right direction.

Michelle Snyder is executive in residence at InterWest Partners focusing on the transformative role that mobile, social, and data can play in the healthcare industry.   She also advises early stage digital health companies and leading healthcare accelerator programs.  Most recently, she led user acquisition and monetization efforts from launch to IPO at Epocrates.  You can follow her on Twitter @mnsnyder.

3 replies »

  1. Dear Michelle,

    After screwing up the Affordable Care Act’s website enrollment for all U.S. citizens, we wonder if you shouldn’t be spending more time on your daytime job instead of on your blogs and other activities. On second thought you’re probably focusing your fulltime efforts now in looking for another job! Michelle, you are a total screwup with no technical understanding of building systems but you are darn good at networking and politicking.

    Take a hike and good riddance!

  2. From the environment movement we have found several types of health care programs are being introduced to deliver quality health care service to the people. Environment movement brings several changes in our surrounding therefore we have found various health care programs are being introduced to promote the health care among people.

  3. Great article Michelle. Those are some very thought provoking parallels. Both issues have their doom and groomers and it will be interesting to see if either system ever does suffer a serious collapse. It seems to me the more “fixable” of the 2 is healthcare. We’re seeing some steps in the right direction at least!