Monday, July 28, 2008

The Good Idea Test and Wellness Tokens

How do you know if an idea is really good?

We all hear lots of ideas. Some are obviously bad like those inspiring the Darwin Awards each year. Those ideas are usually fatal to the poor soul who acted on them. If you aren't familiar with these awards, visit http://www.darwinawards.com/ where a record of 746 "Enterprising Demises" is kept. Obviously any idea that kills you probably isn't a good one.

However, the relavant merits of most idea aren't that obvious.

How can we quickly evaluate whether or not an idea we hear is a good one? I have a simple rule. In my experience, an idea is likely to be a good one if my initial reaction to the new idea is, "Gee, I wish I'd thought of that!" This is my version of the "Blink Test," named after the Malcolm Gladwell book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking."

Over the years this test has consistently proven an accurate indicator of the relative merit of the idea. I have learned if the new idea has to be sold to me and I buy it, I'm usually sorry in the long run.

When I first heard about Wellness Tokens that reward people for behaviors that keep them healthy, my initial "Blink Test" response was, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Before I tell you about Wellness Tokens, let's explore the problems of our current system of medical care.

Consider how our current system works, or doesn't depending on your pont of view. We are basically ignored until we get sick or hurt. Then herioc measures are undertaken, massive quantities of expensive drugs are prescribed and everything possible is done to put Humpty Dumpty together again. But the odds are that once we are sick enough to need the Doctors, Hospitals and drugs we will never be quite the same again regardless of the quality of care we receive. Although lip service is paid to the idea of prevention, the efforts are usually half hearted and inneffective. Too often prevention is focused on using fear to scare the hell out of us, which causes most of us to simply retreat into denial rather than change our behaviors.

The medical establishment (Think: AMA, hospitals, health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals companies.) have created a cozy little system that tends to discourage or even exclude alternatives to their put Humpty Dumpty back together model. And of course all the financial incentives are on the side of treatment/cure rather than prevention/wellness. That is all well and good for the medical establishment; however, should you or I fall into their cozy little system we had best have great insurance or a good bankruptcy lawyer.

In other words our system isn't a system of health care at all, it's a system of medical care. Until you need to cure a disease, heal a trauma or deal with the symptoms of age--so long as you are healthy--you really aren't a suitable candidate for medical care. And, relatively little or no attention is paid to helping us stay healthy and thus avoid the need for medical care.

So, with that background, what exactly is a Wellness Token and why am I promoting it?

This good idea was initially published in 2006 by a Belgian economist named Bernard Lietaer in an article titled "Wellness Tokens: A Currency That Promotes Preventive Care."

In his original paper Lietaer begins by describing the problem and pointing out the difference between medical care and health or wellness care.

Lietaer describes the importance of financial incentive in determining the focus of care. For example until the late 19th Century Chinese Doctors were compensated by patients so long as the patient maintained good health and if the patient became ill the Doctor paid the patient. Imagine that for a moment. The financial incentive in pre 20th Century China was wellness and prevention.

The Wellness Token, according to Lietaer, is designed to emphasize the focus on three areas: wellness, prevention and holistic health care rather than on after the fact medical care. Wellness Tokens would focus in a manner familiar to anyone who has ever participated in a frequent flyer program. Tokens would be earned in two ways:

  • Providing non-medical help to the elderly, handicapped and folks who need chronic care; and,
  • Participating in specifically qualified preventitive health programs (For example: obesity reduction programs, educational programs, fitness programs, etc.).

Lietaer writes that Wellness Tokens could be redeemed in part for other goods and services such as preventive therapies, discounts for purchases of healthy foods, fitness programs and such. For example, according to Lietaer, the Elderplan Insurance Company of Brooklyn, NY accepts alternative currency for up to 25% of insurance premiums for elderly customers.

After reading all of that is there any doubt that the Wellness Token conceived by Bernard Lietaer passes my "Blink Test?" Although I didn't think of it, I can at least write about it and introce you to the concept!

1 comment:

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