Apply more horsepower to cut health care costs

As usual, William Shakespeare had it right all along. In the Shakespeare play “Richard III,” the king yells, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Although written more than 400 years ago, the phrase remains relevant to this day in describing situations in which the absence of little things can make a big difference. To put it another way, business owners know only too well the importance of paying attention to details when it comes to the big picture.

The same principal applies to efforts to address the rising costs of health care. Sometimes, it’s the small stuff that matters most. And sometimes, that stuff doesn’t have a thing to do with insurance, technology or government policies.

While it might not be Shakespeare, Dick Thompson tells stories no less insightful. There’s the story, for example, about the woman who can’t bring her diabetes under control. The reason? She doesn’t stick to her treatment regimen because she has no refrigerator to chill her insulin. Then there’s the story about the man who repeatedly showed up in the emergency room with vague complaints about head pain and depression. The reason? He knew he could get regular meals at the hospital.

The point? It’s far less costly and far more efficient to address underlying problems in proactive fashion than deal with them in emergency rooms. And any efforts that lower health care costs, if only to slightly bend the upward curve, in turn will benefit businesses that provide health care benefits to employees.

Fortunately, Thompson oversees an organization involved in an initiative to do just that. Thompson serves as executive director and chief executive officer of the Quality Health Network based in rand Junction. Drawing on its expertise in developing a health information exchange in Western Colorado, QHN plans to soon launch a pilot program for a community information exchange called the Community Resource Network.

The network will offer a secure way to exchange information about people and their unique needs, available resources to meet those needs and the agencies and organization that provide help. The goal, Thompson says, is to improve the efficacy of those efforts — to lower costs and improve efficiency.

The Community Resource Network already has gained recognition in a national challenge to develop digital solutions to address the social determinants of health. The network is one of five semifinalists in a competition conducted by the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The network already has received $5,000 as a semifinalist and would receive $50,000 as the winner.

Thompson says social determinants include education, employment, access to food and housing and transportation. Together, they can account for up to 80 percent of the factors affecting health, he said. Addressing social determinants can improve well-being and in turn lower health care costs.

Thompson believes the Community Resource Network will not only work well in Mesa County and Western Colorado, but also serve as a model that could be replicated nationwide.

Savvy business owners know there’s nothing better than practical solutions that address the underlying causes to problems that otherwise seem too complex to solve.

Sometimes a little horsepower — or a refrigerator, for that matter — can make all the difference.