Revamping Healthcare Meets Philosophy 2.0: An Interview with Phil Baumann

He advocates social networking for hospitals. Coupling Google Answers with layoffs. Creating purple elephants to fix healthcare.

Phil Baumann, a former finance professional who now works as a nurse and a blogger, is a masterful observer of the crossroads where health, the Internet, business, and Zen intersect. His mashup approach to business, healthcare, and life provides surprising insights for people accustomed to hearing the usual (vague) debates, especially with regards to healthcare.

After reading Phil’s blog, I became intrigued with his viewpoints. The interview below explores why universal healthcare won’t work, what Americans need to do to fix the system, and how to get past the hoax of work-life balance. See for yourself what a refreshing take on healthcare looks like:

1. What inspired you to come up with this mission: I am going to discover how to improve the health of every child, woman and man on the planet?

It’s a grandiose statement, intended for exaggerated effect. It’s a goal I set up more for myself.
I was inspired by Chris Guillebeau’s A Brief Guide to World Domination. At one point in the book, he talks about our bios or resumes. He advises to tell people what you’re going to do for them rather than recount your past experiences. It made sense. Who cares what you did in the past? Tell people what use you are to them going forward.

So I thought about what I’d like to accomplish with my life, if I had all the resources in the world, and for me it was “improve the health of every child, woman and man on the planet”. Time will tell if my dream comes through (I hope it does).

2. You seem to have a very humanistic approach to healthcare, stress management, and the healthcare system. Could you state a few main points of what an ideal healthcare system would look like, to you?

An ideal health care system is one that permits our knowledge base to expand while offering an equitable way to ensure that every one of our fellow citizens receives appropriate care. In the long run, I’d like to see a true capitalist form of health care because capitalism (not the consumerist kind we live with now) is the only system developed so far which allows democratic minds to express themselves freely.

The proper goal of health care isn’t to be cheap, it’s remarkable quality. Recently I’ve considered that what we need is something I’ve called the Godinization of Health Care. I think the common-sense that Seth Godin reveals to marketers needs to be incorporated into the health care system.

Instead of focusing so exclusively on cost-management, which most administrators do, health care organizations ought to focus on creating remarkable services that people are willing to pay for and which can help fund the more basic bread and butter services.

Hospitals need to create free prizes and purple cows. It sounds laughable, but if we are to finance innovative ways to meet our health care needs, we are going to need a healthy dose of vibrant creativity, which is sadly lacking in the health care industry.

Universal Healthcare Isn’t the Answer
Universal health care has become an attractive object of conversation. I admire and respect the intent of that conversation, but it’s ultimately a consumeristic and short-term approach. We aren’t Europeans or Canadians or Britons or Swedes. They are all brilliant people but we have a completely different way of doing things.

When we do it wrong, it’s a shameful disaster. But when we do it right, boy are we the world’s envy. I don’t want America to copy other systems. I want America to do something remarkable with health care.

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
Unfortunately, I do think the fundamental economic state of health care affairs is approaching such a catastrophic disaster that we will probably need to integrate short-term fixes with a long-term replacement.

Those fixes will require some kind of governmental intervention. I’m not a big believer in government, but I understand its importance. I think the industry is probably going to need external pushes.

For example, I think facilities should be mandated and incentivized to have secure and usable health information technologies. Something like 90% of health care facilities rely on paper. The industry is reluctant to go digital because of the up-front costs involved. Smart capitalists, of course, understand the long-term returns from proper technological implementation, but these executives insist on being tied to rainforests.

How do We Fix It?
I think what we need overall is a well-led project akin to our push to the moon. We achieved something remarkable with that shining moment in our history. Unfortunately, we sort of gave up, we let it slip.

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We can’t afford to slip now. Our Republic is confronted with a panoply of dangers. Health care is perhaps our Achilles heal. If we can have a public discussion that probes the economic, technological and scientific complexities of health care then I think we have a shot at the moon. But if we can’t get the public discussion started in the right kind of language then we are going to construct another Tower of Babel.

The problems which the health care industry currently experiences involve a unique scope of fields: science, economics, sociology, culture, philosophy, politics, religion, spirituality and service. Our discussion, if it is to have any meaning, will require incorporations of all those fields.

My proposal for the industry: encourage doctors and nurses to study economics.

My proposal to health care workers: start their own enterprises or enter politics.

My suggestion for the public: eat your veggies, turn off the TV, unplug from the net more often, exercise, put the Doritos down, and understand the time value of health (e.g. the future value of a donut is the pain of a heart attack).

3. One of my favorite posts on your blog is entitled “Why Work-Life Balance is a Hoax.” I’d like to ask you more about this quote: “…before you beat yourself up with constant ruminations of how you need to find balance between work and home-life, why not try to do some soul-digging first? Why not find out what’s really bugging you?”

Say you have someone who’s stressed at work (most of us are), and they come to accept the fact that they have to work through the rough times instead of denying them. How, then, would they go about finding out what’s really bugging them?

The Persian poet Rumi once said “there are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” I don’t think there’s one simple recipe that works for everybody.

Like millions of others, I have bills to pay and a family to support. Almost everybody I know and work with seems stressed out of their minds. I wish there was a simple solution. The idea of work-life balance has become a very common dream. It’s just my opinion, born out of experience, that there is no “balance.”

But there is mindfulness. If you have a thorn in your foot, you don’t move across the room to make the pain go away. You have to pull out the thorn. Much of our suffering and stress is either self-generated or comes about because we aren’t given sufficient tools to cope well.

I would recommend understanding the Four Noble truths. You don’t have to take it religiously. In fact, Siddhartha’s approach was pretty scientific:

– Observe what you see: it’s all a suffering mess;
– Discover: What you see is through your mind and the suffering you feel comes from a desire to get away from what you feel;
– Realize: Changing how you see things is how you get past suffering;
– Conclude: Develop a way of living that dynamically integrates what you observe, discover and realize.

There are millions of other algorithms, but I think this one is closest to the scientific method and one that many people have benefitted from. For most Americans, Zen is probably the most attractive practice to cope with our ADHD culture.

Almost everybody I know thinks they’ll be happier if they quit their job, or start a new business, or become a millionaire. Sure, you might have to do one or more of those things. But you’re still the same person. If you have that thorn in your foot, your new role won’t ease the pain. It might ease it for a while, but sooner or later, that thorn is going to hurt: and when the pain returns, the wound will be bigger.

We think it’s something to dread. We’ve been programmed to be successful, to win at all costs, to be “something” or “somebody”. But that’s a hoax, a sham, a trap.

Don’t define yourself by a job or by somebody else’s misguided dream about success. Realize that you probably have so much in stress in your life because you’re trying to jam other people’s delusions into your life.

My biggest advice: don’t be so serious. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Start asking yourself your motivations for what you do. Learn to pay attention to your own mind. It loves to play tricks on you, but if you laugh back you’ll be amazed at what it can do. Mind your mind.

Read more of Phil’s opinions at

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.