Skip to main content

How will 'Obamacare' impact hospital sustainability?

We are only beginning to understand the basics of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it will affect us personally, let alone the impact it will have on our entire health care system. Does the ACA have a direct or even an indirect link to sustainability?

With a couple of the ACA's basic elements emphasizing wellness and patient outcomes (satisfaction), sustainability principles are definitely front and center. Let's examine how.

First, under the ACA, employers will be incentivized to provide a healthy work environment, create and promote wellness programs and even to subsidize the costs for employee gym club memberships, smoking-cessation programs, etc.

We all know creating a healthy work environment is a basic element employers should include in their sustainability plan. Addressing employee comfort (lighting, ventilation, temperature control) and providing bike-friendly workplaces are just a couple of strategies out of the "Sustainability 101 for Businesses" workbook. With the amount of time the typical employee spends at work, a healthier workplace certainly would contribute to reducing overall health care costs. Prevention versus medication becomes the focus. An additional benefit for a business having healthier and more energetic employees is a more effective business (i.e., more profitable).

Second, the ACA's Medicare Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program will grade hospitals on the quality of their health care delivery, including an assessment of patient satisfaction. Hospitals could lose (or gain) a portion of their Medicare funding based on their grades.

Although patient satisfaction is generally a measurement of the individual's perception of the quality of care they've received, a standardized survey is used to generate a common barometer across our healthcare system. You can only speculate the myriad contributing factors a patient finds important relative to his or her hospital "experience." The "factors," though, which could influence a patient's perception of care and that a healthcare institution has direct control of, also would include the same items an employer can control.

Hospital image by GorillaAttack via Shutterstock.

The HCAHPS Patient Survey is what has been used since October in this process.

A couple of items on this survey include "The Hospital Environment" (including addressing noise levels) as well as the "Overall Rating of Hospital" (where patient comfort certainly becomes a factor).

One can see how a sustainably designed, constructed and operated hospital would have a definite advantage in meeting these criteria compared to other health care facilities.

The report, "Understanding the Relationship Between Public Health and the Built Environment," was written a few years back to inform the development of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system. This report reviewed and gave an accounting of current research showing a direct relationship between public health and neighborhood design.

Its purpose was to understand how neighborhood design and development could have a positive influence on public health. The report presents interesting data showing how our reliance on the automobile and having gone away from true Live-Work-Play neighborhoods have negatively affected our overall general health.

It only makes sense that sustainably designed workplaces and neighborhoods and a focus on wellness and satisfactory outcomes are all positive strategies for reducing health care costs, as well as to improve the quality of life at home and at the office. Now, back to the treadmill.

Reprinted with permission from the April 2013 issue of EDC.

Hospital image by GorillaAttack via Shutterstock.

More on this topic

More by This Author