How Can Hospitals Thrive in Future?

The first step in dealing with complex financial and care issues faced by community hospitals is to get people engaged and talking about them, according to the organizers of tomorrow’s online “Future of the Hospital” game. People will compete to present the most cogent and worthwhile ideas for improving hospitals in California and the nation.

Starting tomorrow morning and running for 24 hours, the Institute for the Future is putting on an online forecasting competition to prompt possible solutions for community hospitals with a discussion involving as many people as possible. The event is co-sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation, which publishes California Healthline.

“As federal funding for hospitals nationwide dwindles, so does our ability to access basic care in hospitals,” said Jean Hagan, an executive producer for the Institute for the Future. “Our emergency medical system is over-burdened, underfunded and fragmented. The statistics are frightening.”

Fixing all of that means looking at the hospital system in new ways, Hagan said, and that’s where the Future of the Hospital interaction comes in.

“Basically [the Institute] has been running games like this for over five years to convene and inspire field experts, academics, policy folks and everyday citizens to think together and come up with solutions to what we call ‘wicked’ problems,” Hagan said. “These are problems that seem so overwhelming that people feel powerless. Our hope and mission is to not only come up with plausible alternative solutions, but to inspire real agency in people in roles across all domains of responsibility.”

According to Rachel Maguire, a health care research director at the Institute, these types of web competitions open up the dialogue and open people’s minds — in this case, to new possibilities for redesigning hospital systems.

“While the future of the hospital is uncertain in today’s climate,” Maguire said, “it’s also a really exciting opportunity to start from scratch and fundamentally redesign hospitals.”

Maguire wants people to think about the larger picture of care in the hospital setting. “If traditional clinical environments are no longer necessary for many health care needs, what else could the hospital be?” she asked. “Could it become a place for community wellness rather than just a place we go when we’re really sick? … We hope this open collaborative experience will yield hundreds of new ideas to answer these questions.”

Tomorrow’s web event will be shaped by a series of thought challenges, Maguire said. For example, the first one is: Construct a 21st Century safety-net system that is fair, economically sustainable and delivers high-quality emergency care services to all in need.

So, in solving that large proposal, she said, you might want to consider some far-reaching questions, such as:

  • Should hospital relocations and closures be stopped through the legal or political systems?  
  • What if minority communities could sue to prevent a hospital closure?
  • What if the drop in operating emergency departments across the country is a positive sign of market forces at work, creating a more efficient healthcare system?”
  • What would a digital layer in emergency care services look like?
  • What if we were to build emergency care centers just for seniors, or just for children?

As Hagan put it: “People working together in creative ways,” she said, “is the only path for real change.”

Registration for the online competition will be open till it begins tomorrow morning, Institute officials said.

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