A “Marathon Sprint”: The New Pace of Healthcare

When I reflect on the changing face of healthcare I can’t help but compare the new pace of healthcare in light of healthcare reform and value based purchasing incentives with that of a “marathon sprint.”

As a long-distance runner, sprinting a marathon is impossible; the pace associated with a sprint – running as fast as one is able – can only be maintained for a short, finite distance. Marathons, on the other hand, require pacing, careful planning, and stamina “for the long haul.” Sure, sprinting can occur at different points during a marathon, but no human being could ever maintain such a blistering pace for 26.2 miles!

Ironically, with the introduction of value based purchasing incentives, it appears that hospitals have been registered to compete in a marathon sprint. Simply put, value based purchasing incentivizes hospitals to compete against one another for a limited “winner’s purse” of Medicare reimbursement monies. Those that sprint forward and ahead of the pack will win the right to keep monies that were once their “entitled” reimbursement. Those that fall behind because they can’t keep up the pace will lose monies that they used to count on for their bottom line.

In the past couple of years, many hospitals have gotten off to a quick start in this “race” and are sprinting ahead of the rest of the pack by attempting to achieve more positive quality and patient experience results than the majority of other hospitals. Doing so will differentiate them from the others and result in higher “winnings” in the next couple of years.  Laggard hospitals that have yet to even leave the starting blocks may be left behind early in this race.

But, remember, this is a marathon! So, those hospitals that sprinted out in front during the early months, quarters and even years must do more than maintain continuous improvements to stay ahead. In actuality, they must continually outpace the rest of the field in their results and outcomes and thus the notion of the “marathon sprint” to describe the new pace of healthcare.

My purpose here is not to oversimplify the complexity and intricacies of value based purchasing and its place in healthcare reform. Personally, I favor the concept of value based purchasing incentives to improve quality and experience outcomes!  Rather, my intention is 3-fold:

  1. Reflect on my experience of what it’s been like to work in a healthcare setting over the past few years;
  2. Consider some of the challenges that may lie ahead for hospitals and their personnel; and,
  3. Invite the reflections of others so together we can improve the health of the patients we serve without compromising our own well-being by naively sprinting in what appears to be a marathon, long-distance run.
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