Category: Culture

Coronavirus: We are all in this together

published date
March 20th, 2020 by

In this edition of #CareTalk, Carecentrix CEO John Driscoll and I discuss the impact of COVID-19 in the US and around the world.  John retracts his earlier claim that the feds are doing a good job, and we go on to discuss the fact that we’re all in this together, universal coverage is a sensible policy, science matters, and government can help.

We agree with Tony Fauci, who said, “If it looks like you’re overreacting, you’re probably doing the right thing,” and we also look for signs of hope on the horizon (or just over it).

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Lessons of Coronavirus: The Emperor has no clues

published date
March 11th, 2020 by
fairy tale 1750666 1280
No virus here, fellas

The COVID-19 coronavirus provides a valuable lens for viewing our healthcare system, society, and politics. Teachable moments like these are a rare occurrence, and I’m cautiously optimistic that people will take a fresh look at how they view the world.

Here are some lessons I see from the emerging crisis:

  1. We are all in this together. The virus affects the whole society. You can’t wall yourself off from it or blame it on “losers.” If we’re going to prevail we’ll all need to pull together, not pit ourselves against one another or allow our politicians to fan the flames.
  2. Universal coverage is a sensible policy. It seems crazy to people from other countries that Americans would hesitate to get tested for coronavirus because they were worried about how they would pay for the test or treatment.  It is crazy, but true. And never mind the fact that many can’t take sick leave.
  3. Science matters. The Administration has been systematically undermining scientists in and outside of the government. Climate change is a great example –where it’s convenient to believe what suits one’s politics, and the consequences won’t show up for a while. When it comes to corona, the problem is here now –or will be within weeks. Dissing the scientists and experts won’t work well. The public -for the most part– gets it.
  4. Government can help. In 2018, Trump dumped the head of global health security from the National Security Council and disbanded his team, “at a time… the country [was] already underprepared for the increasing risks of pandemic or bioterrorism attack.” CDC funding is being cut dramatically and local and state public health services have been starved for resources for years.
  5. The Emperor has no clues. Trump’s visit to the CDC was an embarrassment, in which he played his usual game of attacking politicians and the press, while showcasing his own narcissism. Maybe those who laughed it off or cheered it on in other circumstances will be more concerned when it has real implications for their health.  In any case, Presidential quotes like the following should be wearing a bit thing: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.”

Next time I’ll write about some of the lessons that we may soon learn, about the virus, about democracy, and about the health of our society.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Suckin’ down booze at the store. Public nuisance or the last best hope for retail?

published date
February 27th, 2020 by
Kevin Sullivan Headshot
Kevin Sullivan, sobriety coach

I’ve read and written about retailers offering a casual alcohol drinking experience to lure shoppers into their stores. Curious to learn more, I interviewed sobriety coach Kevin Sullivan to get his take.

Retailers are offering alcoholic beverages to shoppers. How widespread is this practice? Is it growing?

This practice has currently been adopted by more and more retailers including Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel, Whole Foods, and Lululemon. More and more retailers are looking to add casual drinking experiences to their business models.

What is the motivation for this practice?

The onset of online shopping has forced retailers to make stores more experiential to encourage foot traffic. With consumers able to get anything they want delivered to them from their home, they need new incentives to head into stores.

How similar is this approach to the practice of casinos offering free drinks to patrons?

Casinos offer free drinks to encourage patrons to keep on gambling. While alcohol has the obvious side effect of lowering inhibitions, just keeping consumers around products can convince them to make a purchase. The same concept is basically true in casinos, it incentivizes customers to stay around your products and services.

Do retailers find this approach benefits them? How?

Yes, for example, at Nordstrom locations that offer food and alcohol, these new offerings have become 25% of their total business. Retailers can use these offering to encourage sales of their main products, Whole Foods, for example, gives shoppers a token for 10% off groceries after drinking at their bar.

Any downsides from the retailer perspective?

Retailers will have to obtain the necessary licenses in each state to be able to sell alcohol. Selling alcohol in itself costs money, stores have to purchase the drinks they want to sell, and have to hire workers that can make appealing drinks. Retailers will also have to deal with a changing society that is becoming increasingly sober curious along with those who already abstain from alcohol. If members of these communities were interested in shopping in-store at these locations, this may turn them away.

What are the concerns from a public health perspective?

Having more locations that sell alcohol always runs the risk that those that should not be drinking will have access to alcohol. I find it hard to believe that consumers will be willing to have a designated driver before heading to Whole Foods. Having more casual drinking experiences may lead to an increase in both underage drinking and drunk driving.

What are the implications for individuals who are trying to reduce their drinking or abstain?

Those trying to stay away from alcohol will have to have honest conversations with themselves to see if they’d be able to handle being sold alcohol while shopping for shoes or furniture. Most are likely to be able to live with this new reality, but inevitably some will be coerced to stay home and shop online.

Are any stores allowing or encouraging the consumption of cannabis or other substances? 

To date, I am not aware of any locations offering any other substances aside from alcohol. As cannabis becomes legal in more and more states, this may change.

Where do you think the trend will go from here?

I believe this is largely a fad for in-store retail. Many more retail locations are likely to close before this trend becomes the industry standard.

Kevin Sullivan is a sobriety coach, motivational speaker and serial entrepreneurial success who, proudly in recovery himself, is committed to helping others struggling with addiction. Known as the “turnaround guy,” for his ability to flourish in challenging markets, Kevin has helped kickstart
successful multi-million dollar businesses in several different verticals

What’s new with old drivers?

published date
February 25th, 2020 by
person 3553814 1280
Where’s my Uber?

A front page story in the Boston Globe (No longer in the driver’s seat; for elders, giving up the keys comes with a cost: giving up their freedom) is one that could have been written any time over the past 30 years or so. In fact, the same story has been written many times, which makes me wonder why the Globe bothered publishing it again now.

It’s a 29-paragraph article, and only in paragraphs 26 and 27 do we see any reference to ride share apps. Even then, it’s done dismissively:

These days, technology offers car-less seniors more options, freeing those who can pay for rides from depending on neighbors. Unlike past generations, seniors relinquishing licenses are a mouse click away from delivery or ride-sharing services.

But in remote settings, ride-sharing services can be harder to access, and family and friends often pick up the slack.

That really misses the point. The line about “those who can pay for rides” implies that Uber and Lyft are luxury services. Actually, for people who don’t drive that many miles –which is the population we’re talking about– taking a ride share service as needed will be a lot cheaper than owning a car, paying for insurance, maintenance, parking, etc. So almost by definition,  ride share services are affordable to seniors who would otherwise be driving.

Uber and Lyft are all over the place (there are not that many “remote settings” in the Boston area). But sure, I guess that affects some people.

I’ve been impressed that even non-tech savvy people, like my 80+ year old relative are able to summon Uber and Lyft successfully.

Cars themselves are getting easier and safer for the elderly to drive. Fully autonomous vehicles are still a few years in the future, but plenty of modern cars have features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance, and rear cross traffic warning that help older drivers compensate for declines in physical and mental capacity.

Those get no mention in the article.

It’s also worth pointing out that elderly drivers are not that big of a threat to the public. They drive fewer miles, wear seatbelts, and are generally mellow behind the wheel. Inevitably, some die. Part of the reason is that older people are more frail, and more likely to die in an accident that a younger person would survive.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.



The United Provinces of Canada (at least on healthcare)

published date
July 1st, 2019 by
maple leaf 2410586 1280
Happy and Healthy?

Happy Canada Day!

We usually think of Canada as a divided nation, with the province of Quebec perennially at odds with the rest of the county and threatening to secede. I was in Montreal over the weekend and it’s fair to say there wasn’t much evidence of enthusiasm for the upcoming Canada Day (the rough equivalent of our 4th of July).

And yet, at least when it comes to healthcare policy, Quebec is very much at peace with the rest of the country.  From the Montreal Gazette (Quebecers united with Canadians on health, divided on language, hockey):

When it comes to stoking national pride, Canadians and Quebecers are united in their appreciation for universal health care and the Canadian passport. They also see eye-to-eye on the importance of the monarchy, Air Canada and Tim Hortons as national symbols, in that they don’t find them particularly important.

A national survey asked the question, “How important are each of the following as a source of personal or collective pride in Canada?”

Universal healthcare scored highest. Seventy three percent of Canadians and 70 percent of those from Quebec ranked it as very important. Anglophones and Francophones responded the same way.

We usually think of the United States of America, but when it comes to healthcare that is certainly not the case. If anything, Americans might be united against the idea of a Canadian-style system.

Kind of odd, then that the people living under that regime are so proud of it.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.