What We Give to Children and What We Get in Return

From Kinetic Sand to Hatchimals, American parents spend, on average, hundreds of dollars per child on gifts around the holidays. As a mother of a (now adult) daughter, I can say with certainty that this year’s hot toy is likely to be long forgotten by next Christmas.  

Giving a child a toy they’ve been waiting for “forever”, and watching them open it, is delightful.

Knowing that my daughter has sufficient health and education to build a meaningful life, and watching her do so, has been the most fulfilling gift of all. 

Our children are watching us, too, and they feel the effects of how we invest our resources. In a recent interview, former first lady Michelle Obama recounted her experience as an elementary student in a neglected school, warning “Children can tell if you’re not investing in them…This notion that kids don’t know when they’re not being invested in—I’m here to tell you that as a first grader, I felt it.”

The former first lady is not alone in warning us about how we invest, or do not invest, in the next generation of Americans.  For example, a recent report from the Council for a Strong America (a bipartisan nonprofit comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and prominent coaches and athletes) explains that

“Obesity has long threatened our nation’s health; as the epidemic grows, obesity is posing a threat to our nation’s security as well…obesity disqualifies 31 percent of youth from serving if they so choose. This year, the Army fell short of its recruiting goal for the first time since 2005, and these recruiting challenges will continue unless measures are taken to encourage a healthy lifestyle beginning at a young age.”

The business community is concerned, too. In a report titled Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow, the Chamber of Commerce Foundation reminds us that

 “Business leaders have long understood the importance of a well-educated workforce to support a strong economy, keep America competitive globally, and ensure a vibrant democracy. And they have long played a leadership role in strengthening the education pipeline so crucial to our economic growth and prosperity. Yet our nation’s K–12 system is falling short in preparing new generations for the ever-changing demands of the 21st century workplace. One root of this problem is that we’ve underestimated the importance of the earliest years of life.”

Additional statistics are outlined in a detailed report from a professor of policy and demography at the University of Southern California. The report explains how demographic changes will lead to

 “A shortage of children, and that will lead to a shortage of workers and taxpayers in the not too distant future. Meanwhile there are way too many older people—that’s most of us—who will be relying on this undersized group of working age people when we reach our retirement years…Our best hope is to cultivate the future abilities of the children already living with us so that society can accomplish more with fewer young people. This means greater investing in our existing children to maximize their capabilities and future earning power.”

The organizations and experts who participate in the Pediatric Moneyball initiative also believe strongly in finding innovative and powerful ways to invest in the health and well-being of our children.

Join us as we raise awareness about the critical importance of healthy children to our future.

Graduation Rates Are High, But Are Graduates Healthy?

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June is the month of high school graduations, and I’m happy to see that graduation rates in the United States are historically high.

I can’t help but note however, that these numbers don’t tell us whether young adults are graduating and entering the workforce, matriculating to college, and/or entering the armed services as healthy – and therefore, as productive – as they could be.

And as the board member of an American global manufacturing company and one of the top pediatric children’s hospital systems in the United States, what I really want to know about our high school graduation results is

How many 18 year olds are graduating with high scores for health and well-being?

 

Beyond the Diploma

Research suggests that chronic illnesses are on the rise among American children; not surprisingly, this trend threatens to burden the healthcare system as well as America’s ability to compete in an increasingly global economy and even protect our country.                                      

While there are many amazing organizations providing support and resources to help children grow up healthy and parents to raise healthy children, it’s not always easy to coordinate these resources or even learn about them, depending on the circumstances.

 

The Promise of Technology

A growing chorus of medical practitioners and educators point to technology as a solution.

Yes, the very same devices and digital tools that cause immeasurable amounts of teenage drama (and parental exasperation) are also the keys to addressing some of the most fundamental challenges to securing the health of the next generation.

Here are three very practical -- yet potentially profound -- ways that existing technology is being used to help our children graduate from high school with higher scores for health and well-being:

     • Smartphone Apps. The slim rectangle that appears to be attached to your child’s hand is also a tool for ensuring health and well-being, whether the app helps a child to manage his or her diabetes, asthma, or anxiety.

     • School-Based Partnerships. School nurses in some institutions are already connecting with doctors, specialists and mental-health professionals as well as parents via video-conferencing during the school day and without the student taking an absence or a parent having to take time off. 

     • Supportive Platforms. From intuitive, comprehensive directories to software that allows practitioners to e-prescribe a non-medical-but-health-related service to a patient, platforms connect families with the resources and support they need to prevent or manage chronic conditions.

 

Mission Not Impossible

Integration -- across devices, software, and patient records -- may pose the biggest challenge to implementing these technologies. Then again, others in healthcare will tell you that operations, policy, adoption, and funding are equally if not more challenging.

The good news is that payers and employers are getting on the technology bandwagon, and many innovative providers, hospital systems, school systems, non-profits, and government agencies are also eager to create solutions that improve outcomes (while reducing costs).

My hope is that, as a country, we begin viewing graduation from high school as a health milestone in addition to an educational milestone, and that we measure the rate at which we can confidently say we are setting the next generation up for success in every meaning of the word.

Because when we grow a healthy and educated workforce, we can look forward to a bright economic future for our graduates and for our country.

 

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Memorial Day and The Promise of Better Health for All

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Memorial Day brings to mind two very different memories. I remember my girls celebrating the official kick-off to their summer vacations at backyard barbeques. And I remember the soldiers I met while serving at Walter Reed in the 1970s as a young doctor.

I also remember these soldiers when I read the latest news coverage of the Veterans Administration. These stories are often focused on challenges faced by the VA, like managing electronic health records (EHRs), or the opportunities to increase access to quality healthcare through technology like telemedicine. 

The truth is, children’s hospitals—not to mention the greater American healthcare system—face many of the same challenges and opportunities. And it’s critical to America’s economic future, and even our national security, that we start seeing better health outcomes for everyone, from veterans to children.

 

Delivering on the Promise Takes More Than Value-Based Care

One year ago, I wrote Value-Based Care Alone Won’t Reduce Health Spending and Improve Patient Outcomes for the Harvard Business Review. I explained that Nemours has implemented successful children’s health programs only to find that many are financially unsustainable in the current fee-for-service environment. I came to the following conclusion:

The changes necessary to transform the health of any population are simple: Embed healthful behaviors from birth, reward care efforts for outcomes rather than volume, and provide patients with the ability and tools to truly engage in their own health. But implementation is exceedingly complex. We believe that value-based care, implemented using lean principles and in conjunction with an ongoing, community-wide effort to address social determinants of health, can reduce health spending and deliver on the promise of better health, for children and for all.

A year later, we and the greater health care system in which we operate are still moving, if painfully slowly, toward value-based care.  America spends more than other wealthy nations for poorer results, yet from where I sit as a grandfather, physician, and CEO, I know from experience that we are capable of so much more.

 

More Perspectives, More Creative Solutions

We need more perspectives and more creative solutions. More investors in the future of our country’s economy and global leadership. In short, more people figuring out how to win with those Americans who, by definition, have the most potential to impact the future simply because they are the next generation. 

To bring more—and more varied—minds to the discussion of the health and well-being of America’s children, we are hosting Pediatric Moneyball, a unique conference in our nation’s capital this fall. In addition to a wide variety of highly-regarded panelists from the public and private sectors, the agenda features an innovation keynote by author Walter Isaacson and a leadership keynote by General Colin Powell, USA (Ret.).

I look forward to a day of listening, questioning, and meaningful discussion. If my time as a young resident at Walter Reed taught me anything, it’s that Americans are capable of amazing things, and there are few causes more noble to which we could apply our talents than to the health and well-being of our next generation.

 

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