More Than a Feel-Good Idea

More Than a Feel-Good Idea

The future of health care is—health.

The way Chris Bevolo sees it, hospitals and clinics are in the sickness business. Sure, they want to cure us. But if we don’t get sick, we don’t need them.

“You hear physicians say, ‘I don’t get paid to keep people healthy—I get paid to fix them when they’re hurt,’” says Bevolo, founder and lead strategist of health care marketing consultancy Interval in Minneapolis. “And they’re right.” The predominant model for care reimbursement has long been fee for service: The doctor patches you up, and he or she gets paid. Physicians are happy to talk to you about keeping well, and they certainly hope you’ll take their advice.

But let’s face it: Most of us don’t really want that metaphorical apple a day. We prefer a daily Baconator. Looking to keep premiums and claims as manageable in cost and number as possible, employers and health insurers have been offering us all sorts of incentives to stay healthy: discounts on fitness club memberships, nurse lines, smoking cessation programs, stress management clinics.

But evidence suggests that these services are being underused. Too many of us look at our bodies as cars. We sit down, turn the ignition, and it just goes. The quality of the fuel isn’t important. If our vehicles break down—well, mechanics are doing some amazing things these days. If we get too obese, there’s bariatric surgery. Cholesterol too high? There’s a pill for that. And if all our years of bad food and La-Z-Boy lifestyles catch up with us and we develop several chronic conditions at once—what medicos call comorbidities—Medicare or the VA will cover it.

The U.S. health care system has been remarkably innovative. But the sickness business has become financially unhealthy. We can’t go on like this.

Now there are signs that clinics and hospitals are ready to join insurers and employers on the wellness bandwagon.

This past fall, Interval worked on an online project called Fitfor50 for a clinic system in the Washington, D.C., area that’s giving away several bushels of apples. Interval’s client is providing all sorts of wellness advice and incentives on line. So why would a health care provider provide wellness guidance for free? Because thanks to the 2010 federal health care legislation, keeping us out of the hospital and even doctors’ offices soon could be how health care systems make their money.


The Wellness Playbook

Interval’s client on Fitfor50 is Inova Health System, the largest clinic and hospital system in the metropolitan area around the nation’s capital. Late in 2009, Inova decided it wanted to market itself in a different way—not around sickness, but around health.

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