Collaborating across sectors—government, private industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and education—can solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. These challenges include global health, economic inequality, childhood obesity, climate change, and health and wellness—which, incidentally, are the five main areas in which the William J. Clinton Foundation works.
Health and wellness was front and center last Tuesday as President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, assembled a few hundred people in the California desert for the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters conference. Despite the focus, themes are interrelated. So global health, economic inequality, and childhood obesity crept into the discussion. In his opening remarks, President Clinton noted that the rising cost of health insurance premiums often prevents employers from increasing wages. “We cannot ignore the link between health and the economy,” said President Clinton.
Invited guests and speakers at the La Quinta Resort in La Quinta, California included hospital and insurance executives, health policy experts, and veterans of government service including Dr. David Satcher, Surgeon General of the United States during the Clinton Administration. Others including Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Dean Ornish, and actress Barbra Streisand are partnering with the Clinton Foundation to advance health and wellness agendas. Long-standing relationships among some participants coupled with the relaxed resort atmosphere sparked an exchange of actionable ideas. President Clinton and Chelsea seemed as comfortable sitting in the audience asking questions and refining ideas as they were on stage.
“We’re moving into an era where the only way you can create enough jobs for people and generate enough wealth to have decently-rising wages is if you have creative networks of cooperation. I think the same thing is true of this health challenge,” President Clinton insisted during a discussion with NBC News Chief Medical Correspondent Nancy Snyderman, a friend of the former president for thirty years. “It’s the only thing that works. It works everywhere in the world.” This is another way of saying that collaboration creates value.
I practically muttered “Amen” aloud when President Clinton cited a study that found that if you put a group of people with average IQs together and ask them to work on a problem for a year and you give the same problem to a genius, over the long run the group of people with average intelligence working together will do better than one genius acting alone.
One of the most impactful ways that collaboration can improve healthcare is to remove the barriers that exist between front-line doctors and other health professionals. Too often primary care doctors practice in silos. Dr. Mark Weissman rose from the audience to insist that he and other primary care doctors are awash in patient data but lack regular access to other medical professionals who can collaborate with them on the data and on patient care. Pediatrician Donald Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a possible candidate for governor of Massachusetts, responded to Weissman that it’s necessary for doctors to learn that “I’m no longer the hero who saves the day, but I’m interdependent with others to give care. That’s what works.”
I’ve written often in this space and in The Culture of Collaboration book about how engaged team members working in a collaborative culture create far more value than do team members working in a culture of fear and internal competition. Dr. Deepak Chopra noted that employee disengagement costs the United States economy $300 billion a year. “If your supervisor ignores you, you start to get disengaged and within a few months you start to get ill,” Chopra explained. “If your supervisor doesn’t ignore you but criticizes you, you actually get better.” This is because we would rather be acknowledged than ignored even if we’re receiving criticism. “And if your supervisor notices a single strength that you have, your rate of disengagement goes down to 1 percent,” according to Chopra.
The Health Matters conference is as much about taking action as about exchanging ideas. Corporations, government entities, non-profit organizations, and individuals pledged to take action in preventing disease and improving health. Financial pledges total over $100 million. One such pledge by entrepreneur and philanthropist Vinod Gupta will support a new Clinton Foundation program to address prescription drug abuse. Gupta’s son, Benjamin, died accidentally after taking prescription painkillers and consuming alcohol in December of 2011. Gupta and the Clinton Foundation will educate the public, particularly college students, about the dangers of prescription painkillers.
As I was checking out of the La Quinta Resort, I noticed that Surgeon General Satcher was next to me in line. We chatted about his recent work guiding the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Dr. Satcher noted that at Morehouse he’s building on his work as surgeon general by collaboratively focusing on neglected diseases and underserved populations. Like so many other disciplines, improving health and wellness requires collaboration.