"Back when I started blogging in 2005, what most people knew about bloggers was that they usually got fired when the boss discovered what they were doing," said David E. Williams, the founder of Health Business Blog, now the flourishing online outlet for enlightened conversation on healthcare business and policy with over 3,500 posts. Williams, its founder, has been running a successful healthcare consulting firm, Health Business group for 15 years, advising C-level healthcare executives in Boston, New York, California, Texas, Minneapolis, and even Australia and the United Kingdom. David's blog just celebrated its 10th anniversary. I met with David to congratulate him on his progress and ask a few questions about health policy, business, and the remarkable longevity of Health Business Blog.
When David started Health Business, blogs represented anything but a medium for productive conversation on health and business. David, however, saw a niche for enlightened conversation on those topics. "I would be reading The Wall Street Journal or The Boston Globe, and the articles about healthcare ... were interesting but somewhat shallow. I knew I had to comment. So, the modus operandi of Health Business Blog became to see something in the press and provide more depth, a different angle and the specialized knowledge of a professional health care consultant." Without editorial constraints, David could produce new content daily and engage in conversations with his readers, which was barely allowed by traditional news outlets 10 years ago.
When the blog was starting, healthcare was barely a part of the everyday conversation in America, as there was no ObamaCare, or even RomneyCare in Massachusetts to speak of (or criticize). With the advent of healthcare reforms, however, healthcare topics moved from the wonkish magazines and became relevant to a wider readership among healthcare business executives and entrepreneurs. Moreover, media was becoming interactive, allowing for real feedback and debate between readers, and the popularity of online discussions, blogs, and forums skyrocketed. Healthcare professionals started discussing topics that were not even taken seriously before that, such as the importance of cost in healthcare; quality of care; and the advent of electronic medical records.
Especially in the context of these political changes around healthcare, topics of Health Business Blog were starting to get controversial and heated politically. One controversial example: Would robots take over for nurses under healthcare reform? Readers separated themselves onto camps, and the ones that could imagine robots delivering pills to them in retirement held their ground better. What about the drug Lucentis that sold at a 20-fold markup to repackaged Avastin? The blog became a medium for finding the reasons for why the price increase was fair and justified (David acknowledges that he was more active in defending the drug manufacturer than the company itself was).
"What are the most interesting people I interviewed for the blog? It is not very popular to admire politicians, but in fact, I interviewed all nine candidates for the Governor of Massachusetts, and these were among the most interesting conversations I've ever had on the blog." David interviewed eventual winner Charlie Baker, who has been a health plan CEO, Martha Coakley, Massachusetts' former Attorney General; and Donald Berwick, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. David was able to get the politicians to shared very specific, detailed, strong visions on the future of healthcare, even though in most cases, election coverage tends to be fairly superficial. Berwick shared his enthusiasm for a single payer system, independent candidate Evan Falchuk called for anti-trust action against the state's largest hospital system, and Coakley shared her family's struggle with mental illness. The series is available on WBUR/Commonwealth here.
Whenever David interviews a leader in healthcare, or speaks with the CEO of a healthcare organization, his approach is to define the unique value created by the organization. "How are they really adding value? Are they helping a patient, reducing the cost, or getting the diagnosis faster? What would be lost from the healthcare ecosystem if their company did not exist?" He applauds organizations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for leading the way on healthcare disparities, the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research for reshaping drug development, and Boston Children's Hospital for its unparalleled commitment to patients and their families.
So what is next for healthcare as a whole? "The healthcare system is going to become a lot more patient-centric, with patient-reported outcomes and better measurements for the quality of physicians," said David. Currently, "patient-centric" is mostly just rhetoric (see Huff Post bloggers talk about it here and here); oftentimes it only means shifting costs towards patients and calling that consumer-focused. Making a significant change means healthcare organizations will have to make a patient-centric approach the true cornerstone of their strategy.
After ten years of blogging, David is not resting on his laurels. He publishes new posts frequently, has a popular healthcare podcast, and is active on social media. For the next two years, with presidential race around the corner, he hopes to interview all of presidential candidates for the Health Business Blog. More intelligent and value-emphasizing healthcare discourse, especially in the madness that is presidential race? Yes, please.