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Business has a role to play in increasing healthcare quality and access, says Surgeon General report

There's a real financial incentive for healthcare and business organizations to team up on health equity, the report said.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Vice Adm. Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General speaks during a press briefing on Zoom Tuesday.Vice Adm. Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General speaks during a press briefing on Zoom Tuesday.

The healthcare and business communities live in parallel and only occasionally intersect with each other, but this is a dynamic that's changing in large part because of an important realization: Healthy communities create conditions for economic prosperity and a thriving economy.

This ethos is supported by a new Surgeon General's report entitled "Community Health and Economic Prosperity: Engaging Businesses as Stewards and Stakeholders," which explores the relationship that healthcare and business must foster to create favorable health and economic conditions in the U.S.

BUSINESS AND THE COMMUNITY

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"This fundamental principle of healthy communities is often missing when we think about a healthy economy," said Vice Adm. Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General, in a press briefing on Tuesday. "Health and wellbeing are often not at top of mind for businesses even though they pay for 20% of healthcare costs, which is the largest percentage of healthcare expenditure anywhere in the world."

This is slowly shifting, said Adams, as businesses are increasingly measuring success by the value they create for all of their stakeholders – including everyday Americans and the business community. The report found that companies that adhere to this philosophy are faring better from an economic standpoint, even the midst of the relentless COVID-19 pandemic and its associated hardships. Companies such as American Express and Patagonia were highlighted as positive examples of this mindset.

And this mindset, according to Adams, results in increased return on investment, enhanced engagement and productivity, a broader workforce from which to choose and greater brand recognition and reputation, for both healthcare businesses and the business community at large. 

The report examines four broad areas: That business can and should learn more about their stakeholders, such as suppliers, investors and communities; that they can foster a culture of stewardship, or ownership of their impact on health and the economy; that they should form cross-sector partnerships; and that they should carefully measure their data and progress. 

"The coronavirus pandemic has revealed to us just how interconnected health and the economy are," said Adams. "We need to get more people following health measures. Health is a foundation for business, and we need people to understand that."

Obliquely, what the report is referencing are the social determinants of health, those socioeconomic factors that can impact a patient's health and access to care. These can range from adequate transportation and income to insurance access and the availability of high-speed internet.

"EVERYONE BENEFITS"

Dr. Doug Jutte, a primary care pediatrician and executive director of the Build Healthy Places Network, as well as a co-author of the report, said during the briefing that the business and healthcare communities have a role to play in impacting the social determinants of health, as patients can only make the healthy choices that are available to them. Businesses can help to expand these choices, and at a significant return on investment that can help both the individual business and the broader economy.

"At Build Healthy Places Network, we started to bridge these sectors, and help the public sector folks better understand the world of finance, and it does lead to this question of 'What is the role of business?'" said Jutte. "Health and prosperity are inextricably linked. When everyone is prosperous, everyone benefits, but the inverse is also true: When there are gaps and people are left behind, everyone suffers."

What's needed, said Jutte, is for more means of making money while keeping people healthy – in other words, making money by preventing, say, an amputation, rather than making money off the amputation itself. To that end, Jutte recommended businesses partner with philanthropists and other anchor institutions to achieve these goals.

"We spend $800 million a year amputating feet, which just seems shocking," he said. "Most of those are due to type 2 diabetes, which seems to be concentrated among poor people and people of color. And it's totally avoidable. If we can avoid type 2 diabetes, we can avoid many of these amputations. There's almost $1 billion to be made by avoiding this health calamity."

Businesses, he said, can help to create settings and situations in which type 2 diabetes is avoided. And there are other community efforts currently being undertaken by private companies including Amazon, Netflix and Twitter.

"Healthcare is a business," said Jutte, "and healthcare has been tackling this for a bit longer, investing real dollars into health because they recognize it's good for the community and for their bottom line," said Jutte. "It's exciting to see corporations jumping in."
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com