Corporate titans enjoying
the good old days.
While Moses Naim's The End of Power devotes only a few pages to medicine, it's still provocative and worthwhile reading for anyone involved in the delivery of health care.

As the Population Health Blog understands it, the book's central thesis is that traditional "power" is being disrupted by the three modern trends of "more," "mobility" and "mentality."

We live in an unprecedented era of more (relative) widespread wealth, have an astonishing ability to move goods, services, information and ourselves around the globe (mobility) and are far less likely to adopt the cultural and intellectual assumptions and norms of established society (mentality).

Despite the depressing narrative of the "elite 1%," the irony is that governments and corporations have far less ability to command and control the 99%. This has big implications for world affairs, democracy and U.S. power.


Big themes like this naturally prompt the excitable Population Health Blog to speculate about the implications of Naim's more-mobility-mentality for health reform in the United States.

It should be no wonder that policymakers, politicians, academics and regulators are promoting a large and concentrated i.e. powerful version of healthcare delivery.  These cognoscenti argue that huge integrated delivery systems, accountable care organizations and regional providers can "rationalize" health care with standardized protocols, less variation, efficient service lines, alignmment of incentives, optimum capital deployment and assumption of insurance risk.

Mr. Naim cautions that the power-play may not succeed. The PHB extrapolates:

1. While pundits can argue whether the Affordable Care Act's insurance options are as good as they should be, we're devoting a lot of wealth toward health care. More individuals have higher levels of resources to put into their care than they've ever had before. And they know it.

2. While that wealth is being tempered by out-of-pocket expenses, network exclusions, service limitations and other trade-offs, consumers still have relatively abundant choices on not only when, but where to see that doctor, have that surgery or take that pill.  By the way, information is not only cheaper (thanks to the internet) but no longer monopolized by the health professions. 

3. Whether it's a one-on-one recommendation to have a procedure or a proposal to build a new hospital wing, gone are the days when a professional expert's opinion was automatically accepted. Stakeholders are demanding evidence, seeking justification, asking for alternatives and are relishing the "gotcha" moments.

Where do these healthcare versions of more-mobility-mentality take us? Greater access to resources means higher expectations. Mobility means consumers will use exercise choice to cross country, state or even national borders to access care when they choose to do so.  And mentality translates into higher levels of individual consumerism.

Instead of protocols with less variation, patients will want the care to be personalized. Service lines will be judged less on efficiency than on local notions of value. Provider incentives based on "outcomes" and "upside risk" will have zero value proposition for their wealthy, mobile and skeptical customers.  Capital won't necessarily flow toward non-performing assets and year-end savings won't materialize just because policymakers wish it so.

Accountable care organizations and integrated delivery systems will still have huge competitive advantages. That being said, their chances competing successly against smaller competitors and access to capital will be increased if

1) their protocols are flexible,

2) variation is not only welcome but warranted,

3) patients have a good reason to choose their service lines,

4) incentives are broadened, and

5) this new and different level of complicated risk is realistically priced.

And that's assuming that the health provider policymakers, politicians, academics, regulators and CEOs realize that they're not quite in charge anymore.

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