Simplicity is the cure for our complex health system

In country after country, I witness the same sad situation: caring, often-brilliant men and women toil in the health care industry to care for others, but to do so they must battle the system itself. That system has lost sight of what matters, which is humans caring for other human beings.

To simplify things a bit, every health care system on earth has three main stakeholders:

  1. Patients
  2. Physicians and clinicians
  3. Administrators

Yes there are others like insurers or lawyers, but let’s focus on these three for a moment.

These stakeholders have to operate within a process that goes something like this:

  1. A disease manifests itself in a human body
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Cure
  4. Payment

Three groups of people interacting in a four-step process. How complicated can it be?

You already know the answer. Our health care system has become so complicated that few understand how it actually works and almost no one knows how to fix what is undoubtedly a broken system.

All three stakeholders would love it if technology and bureaucracy could get out of the way and allow physicians and clinicians to help patients. But the details have become so unnecessarily complex and convoluted that common sense has disappeared.

Administrators often battle with insurance companies to get doctors paid correctly. In the name of accuracy, the insurance model is designed to deny or delay payments. Arcane rules that change from state to state and from insurer to insurer complicate an already difficult system.

In some respects, technology functions like a miracle. We have the potential to connect billions of people who lack basic health care with medical knowledge and expertise around the world. Not long ago, my colleague’s wife – she lived in a remote village – tragically died simply because she didn’t gain access to a doctor until her condition was beyond treatment. We need to eliminate such tragedies.

In other respects, technology is handcuffing patients, physicians and clinicians, and administrators alike. Our system is far too complex. It is convoluted, and downright crazy.

Thinking more broadly, health care is simple. Excluding accidents and certain acute conditions, the human body knows how to heal itself, if you provide it a healthy environment in which to do so.

Give a person clean water. Teach them to wash their hands. Teach them to eat a reasonable amount of healthy food, and to get a reasonable amount of exercise. When a condition requires treatment – say, a broken bone – treat it promptly.

The cure for our overly complex health care system isn’t more complexity. It’s less. We need to get everything out of the way of talented people who genuinely wish to devote their lives to helping others.

Praveen Suthrum is president and co-founder, NextServices and blogs at redo | healthcare.

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