Two years ago, at a conference for the American Association of Medical Colleges, there was a group from New Mexico that was handing out little buttons that said “Innovate” (only the “ate” was a sign for infinity–eight, with a twist). As part of their Innov8 campaign, they asked conference attendees to videotape or write the innovations they wanted to see as part of medical education and the delivery of medical care. I wrote: “I want to see American medicine transform from a sick care to a health care system.”
Health care. Not sick care. Prevention. Not prescription.
A system of interacting agencies supporting the social services and rebuilding our built environment to bring us health. So that when I am trying to take care of an underweight homeschooled four year old with an exuberant purple flowered headband who smiles shyly but does not say much, and whose mom vaguely recalls “oh yeah, she had some issues with lead poisoning before”–I have a series of diagnostic and therapeutic tools in my pocket. Alongside rechecking the lead level and alerting the department of public health, I can prescribe “preschool.” My prescription for health can be early childhood education.
The Health Leads Summit in Chicago April 26 elevated this idea of sick care vs health care to the title of the conference. I was honored to sit on the community health panel alongside Judith Haasis, head of CommunityHealth (the largest free clinic in the states), Dr. Susan Rogers, Cook County provider extraordinaire, and Terri Zhu, head of Louis Grocers. “Every day I wake up and remind myself of my mission,” said Judith Haasis. “Then I start my day.”
The day was an exhortation of commitment to a vision and mission of providing the services to promote health. Over lunch, they played a TEDMED talk by Rebecca Onie, McArthur Genius Grant award winner and founder of Health Leads. In it, she describes her vision of placing highly trained teams of college volunteers in health care waiting rooms to screen and connect patients to the social services they needed to stay well–prescriptions for heat and food and education. She tells of approaching her legal mentor, Jeffrey Purcell, and sharing her idea for Health Leads.
“Rebecca,” he said, “when you have a vision, you have an obligation to realize that vision. You must pursue that vision.” Though daunted by the pressure, she still chased the vision, and Health Leads is expanding across the United States today fueled by a $16 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Helping to create a health care system in place of a sick care system.
Rebecca Onie’s closing words for the TEDMED talk:
I believe that we all have a vision for healthcare in this country. I believe that at the end of the day when we measure our healthcare, it will not be by the diseases cured, but by the diseases prevented. It will not be by the excellence of our technologies or the sophistication of our specialists, but by how rarely we needed them. And most of all, I believe that when we measure healthcare, it will be, not by what the system was, but by what we chose it to be.”