Reflections on the True Spirit of the Holidays

Remember when we complained about the holiday shopping season starting before Thanksgiving? Well, this year, holiday merchandise was on display in many stores before Halloween.

Will we see holiday advertising along with back-to-school promotions next year? That doesn’t seem too far-fetched. We are all challenged to hold onto the true meaning of the holidays amid the rush of shopping, decorations, and parties. Sure, those things have a place in our celebrations and traditions. But sometimes it seems like that’s all there is to the holiday season these days.

No matter which winter holiday we celebrate or what our faith may be, this season should include time for reflection, soul searching, and connecting with something that transcends personal concerns. It’s a message we’ve likely heard before, maybe in our place of worship. It’s what I tell HFMA employees at the staff holiday luncheon every year. And it’s a message that has never been timelier than it is now, when our society is deeply divided in so many ways.

Here is the part of the message that may be new: Those who work in health care should reflect on these issues on a different level. Health care is about improving lives. In many cases, it’s about life and death. And in recent years, paying for health care has become a source of uncertainty, stress, and anxiety for many Americans.

So, my challenge to you is threefold.

First, can we, as an industry, set aside career aspirations and political differences to focus on success on a larger scale? That means making decisions on a societal level that lead us toward honest reform that improves healthcare quality, creates a safer environment, and brings spending growth in line with general inflation.

Second, building on the first challenge, can we as financial leaders create payment models and concrete, realistic goals that will help us achieve true progress, so that personal goals track toward industry improvement? It’s not enough to accept industry goals in theory; to succeed, it’s vital for individuals to have an action plan that aligns with those goals. That means committing to pursue the Triple Aim through focused efforts to improve the patient experience and population health and reduce the per capita cost of care.

Third, can we be honest with ourselves about the decisions we make each day that contribute (or don’t contribute) to getting the healthcare industry on a sustainable track? That’s right—this challenge is for everyday life, not just for annual goals and performance assessments. Every day, we make small decisions that improve efficiency or perpetuate waste, promote collaboration or preserve siloes, guide patients toward affordable care or leave them adrift.

It’s not easy to get our arms around an industry that is so personal, so emotional, and so close to every one of us. But that’s what we must do to get health care on a sustainable track. Most of us went into this field to make a difference. Throughout this holiday season and continuing into the new year, let’s resolve to stay focused on what matters most—improving the value of health care for the people and communities we serve.

From the President’s Desk

Joe Fifer expands on his ideas in his December column.