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Published: October 29, 2010

 
 

Beer, Brats, and Butterfat

Regina E. Herzlinger, author of Who Killed Health Care? America’s $2 Trillion Medical Problem — and the Consumer-Driven Cure, introduces a passage on how businesses can lower healthcare costs and improve employee health from The Company That Solved Health Care: How Serigraph Dramatically Reduced Skyrocketing Costs While Providing Better Care, and How Every Company Can Do the Same, by John Torinus Jr.

Quick, do you know your total cholesterol level and body mass index? If so, are those numbers healthy or worrisome? Is your PSA level high or low? What about your blood sugar? If you are a CEO, what are these numbers, on average, for the people who work in your company?

Most of us can’t answer these questions. But we should know these indicators of health status as well as we know the faces of our children. For individuals, this knowledge can help stave off deadly, disabling, and costly illnesses, such as heart disease, prostate cancer, and diabetes. Knowing the collective health status of our colleagues can dramatically help improve their health, the corporate bottom line, and, ultimately, the productivity of entire economies.

It is obvious that if we nip disease in the bud, our quality of life will improve and the healthcare costs that threaten our welfare (nearly US$40 trillion in unfunded liabilities for Medicare alone in the United States) will diminish. So why haven’t we succeeded in addressing health problems before they morph into disease? One major reason is that it is very difficult for people to change the habits that cause these problems — overeating, alcohol and drug abuse, stress, and lack of exercise.

This engaging excerpt by John Torinus Jr., chairman of Serigraph Inc., a 1,000-employee graphics parts manufacturer that decided to manage healthcare like any other business cost center, clearly demonstrates how a corporation can provide the knowledge and support that can help people improve their health and prevent disease in cost-effective, efficient, and non-intrusive ways. It provides a profound lesson that could fundamentally alter the role that companies play in creating healthy societies. 

— Regina E. Herzlinger

 


An excerpt from Chapter 7 of The Company That Solved Health Care: How Serigraph Dramatically Reduced Skyrocketing Costs While Providing Better Care, and How Every Company Can Do the Same


 

Kurt Eschenfelder, a former college football player and engineer at Serigraph, stands 6 feet 4 inches and tipped the scales at 330 pounds. He looked indestructible. That was until his required health screening showed his blood sugar count at 177, which meant he was pre-diabetic.

Guys like Kurt are commonplace in Wisconsin, where we like our beer, bratwurst, and butterfat (translate: cheese and other dairy products). Typically, in the passive U.S. health care model, Kurt’s doctor would have given him a lecture, and Kurt would have been essentially on his own to head off a diabetic condition.

In the proactive model Serigraph has developed, Kurt was surrounded with help. He consulted with Tammy Ertl, our on-site nurse practitioner, Rachel Topercer, a dietician, and Sandy Stockhausen, the diabetes educator from Aurora Health, one of the two big health providers in our area.

Kurt listened, and, unlike most diabetics or near-diabetics, he started a disciplined regimen. He dropped about fifty pounds over approximately six months and lowered his blood sugar to around one hundred without medications. Now, Kurt has no other warning signals for diabetes in his physical makeup.

This is the kind of proactive collaboration that the experts propound, yet it happens far too seldom in American medicine. Our dysfunctional non-system pays providers to fix people when they’re broken, not to prevent those same health breakdowns. People like Kurt get lost in the big medical complexes.

The avoidance of diabetes in Eschenfelder won’t ever show up on the economic ledgers of medicine. His restored health will actually reduce revenues to health providers, with the exception of the small stipend paid to our health coaching team. His health and safety is not a procedure that can be billed, because nothing negative happened. There is now nothing to fix.

 
 
 
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This Reviewer

  1. Regina E. Herzlinger, the Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, is a leading healthcare expert. She is the author of seven books, including Who Killed Health Care? America’s $2 Trillion Medical Problem — and the Consumer-Driven Cure (McGraw-Hill, 2007) and Consumer-Driven Health Care: Implications for Providers, Payers, and Policymakers (Jossey-Bass, 2004), which received the 2004 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award for history and public policy.

This Excerpt

  1. The Company That Solved Health Care: How Serigraph Dramatically Reduced Skyrocketing Costs While Providing Better Care, and How Every Company Can Do the Same (BenBella Books, 2010), by John Torinus Jr.
  2. John Torinus Jr. is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. He headed an investment group that purchased the company in 1987, and served as its CEO for 20 years. Previously, he was a newspaper journalist, editor, and general manager.

 

 
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