The image of a hospital has evolved ever since the nation's first hospital opened in 1752. The common connection remains in a hospital's ability to elicit the patient and community's emotional response, whether experiencing the birth of a child, death of a loved one, or an array of possibilities in between. The hospital's place in the community reaches past the confines of the institution's walls and expands into the community and home where chronically ill patients increasingly receive care. As the second largest private-sector employer, hospitals have a major economic impact. In smaller communities, a local hospital may be the largest employer and can become an integrated part of the community's framework. As the economy sits on tremulous footings, the hospital and its governing healthcare system have opportunities to emerge as leaders for health and wellness.

The current healthcare system offers financial incentives for the over-treatment and over-testing of patients. Meanwhile, relatively few incentives are being offered for leading a healthy lifestyle or improving the quality of one's health. With the introduction of the Senate healthcare bill (America's Affordable Health Choices Act), insurance premiums could be cut by nearly half for workers who improve their health by quitting smoking, losing weight, and eating well. Not only will this improve the quality of life for these individuals, but it will also reduce the financial impact of preventable, behavior-related health complications.

As today's hospitals treat patients with the most advanced technologies available, not only does the hospital need to provide patient-centered care in a facility that honors the environment and community, but the hospital has the opportunity and responsibility to become the community center for health and wellness. Hospital environments should be the healthiest and safest space for all who enter including patients, visitors, and staff. Fitness centers and offerings of lifestyle-related classes for staff and community members allow a hospital to emerge as a center of learning and an intuitive resource for preventative healthcare.

With possible changes from the new healthcare bill and its financial incentives, healthcare systems could be an example to all corporations touting the healthiest facilities and workforces, thus providing the best possible care for patients and community alike.

Resources:

http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2009/07/15/healthcare_bill_offers_workers_incentive_for_healthy_lifestyle?s_campaign=8315

The Joint Commission. Health Care at the Crossroads: Guiding Principles for the Development of the Hospital of the Future. 2008.