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Is this healthcare’s “White Rabbit” moment? #WTFix?

A half century ago I was 17 and the world was about to turn inside out – perhaps the biggest cultural upheaval in America’s history. The Summer of Love was just starting in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and MY world was just starting to wake up to what was going on.

Last night I found an amazing video that captures the very moment of this clash of civilizations: squeaky-clean (supposedly) Dick Clark presenting Jefferson Airplane, with a somewhat puzzled look in his eye, at the very beginning of that summer: June 3. See if you can get the feeling. It’s the Airplane’s first big hit, “White Rabbit,” referring to Alice in Wonderland, which ends with this line: “Feed your head!” In other words, “Wake up, people”:

American Bandstand was the first big live-music teen music show, ancestor of MTV and its popular ‘80s show TRL (Total Request Live) and of all music videos. The equally squeaky-clean (supposedly!) teens got introduced to the not-so-clean Jefferson Airplane, in the mind-opening revolution that was about to turn culture on its head.

Like most people I knew that summer (in Minnesota), I didn’t know what they were talking about. My life was great!  A year later when I arrived in Boston for college, my own awakening started – my own “White Rabbit” moments. Having heard what all those odd people were saying, my view evolved and I started to better understand the world I lived in.

What I learned wasn’t always pretty, but it was essential. So it is with waking up to healthcare and asking, WTFix???

Other songs that summer carried similar messages. That show continued with the Airplane singing “In your head, baby, I’m afraid you don’t know where it is” (Somebody to Love), and the same summer brought Buffalo Springfield’s musey For What It’s Worth”: “There’s somethin’ happenin’ here – what it is ain’t exactly clear … Itop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look – what’s going down?”

Is this healthcare’s “White Rabbit” moment?

Are we finally at the moment when we’ll all start to “feed our head”? To wake up, better understand the world around us – and be better able to get the care we need for ourselves and our families?

Heaven knows, as I said in my book Let Patients Help: A Patient Engagement Handbook: “Information alone doesn’t change behavior.” There’s no shortage of information about how often healthcare falls short of its potential – patient deaths like Fred Holliday and Jess Jacobs and Helen Haskell’s son, Lewis Blackman, all illustrate that we have a long way to go, and the recent statistics on amenable mortality show that US healthcare in particular falls short of potential far more often than other developed nations.

Even this month, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, who was taken to Medstar Washington Hospital Center – which scored a D in hospital safety ratings by Leapfrog Group and only 2/5 stars in the CMS Hospital ratings after being shot – was improving, but was moved back to the ICU after getting an infection and falling back into serious condition.

According to the Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder, at that hospital “infections are a pattern and a serious one…they are significantly [worse than] the national average in four out of five areas that we have data, which suggests an inability to prevent infections.” (USA Today)

Are you awake to this? Do you know where your closest safe hospital is? Do your friends? Feed your head, man. There’s somethin’ happenin’ here.

What’s the Fix?

What’s it going to take before we start speaking truth to power, insisting that healthcare systems make it their business to achieve healthcare’s potential – and not fall short?

Could it be that we need to wake the heck up? Is this our White Rabbit moment – a half century after the Summer of Love?

Join me for the #WTFix tweet chat on July 26 at 1pm Eastern – we’ll be talking about my experience and how I’ve used it (and you can, too!) to change health care. Let’s WAKE UP!

p.s. Being very very different can mean you’re just weird, but it can also be an early sign of something important. Forty-four years later both White Rabbit and Somebody To Love ended up on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time.

Maybe Dick Clark’s puzzled look that day was sensing something real.