Sound Strategy: Addressing health of Eastern N.C. residents will improve rest of our quality of life

Sound Strategy: Addressing health of Eastern N.C. residents will improve rest of our quality of life

February 23rd, 2023

By Tess Judge & Clark Twiddy
We spend, across our region, a reasonable amount of time talking about the importance of our visitor economy as our leading industry. It’s a critical thing to shape as we seek to improve our shared quality of life.

That said, it’s not a monolith–other crucially important economies and innovators are out there. Most of our industries are interconnected on various levels, so to understand the ecosystem fully, let’s highlight one of those connections.

This month is National Heart Month. That’s important because while our visitor economy is linked to our natural environment, our most precious resource will always be our people–and, as a trend, Eastern North Carolina isn’t as healthy as the rest of the state.

So, as we think about taking care of our most precious resources, a few trends stand out:

  • Cardiovascular disease–a leading (and growing) cause of death nationally–costs more to treat than all the cancer treatments in the US combined. Preventative measures are a great way to address that cost; none are more critical than our diets. Our very own Dr. Christina Bowen, the head of well-being at the largest healthcare system in our region, is highlighting a “plant-forward” diet that will go a long way to addressing health, well-being, and healthcare costs. In short, good health is linked to–surprise–good eating. Conversely, poor eating–and subsequent bad health–leads to bad personal outcomes at a human level and tough economic realities at the provider level.
  • We have remarkably excellent medical talent in Eastern North Carolina. As only one example of that, we have in Dr. Wiley Nifong perhaps our most famous living native. Dr. Nifong, hailing from Hyde County, is a globally renowned innovator in using advanced robotics to address complicated heart surgeries. Heart hospitals worldwide know his work and use it with their patients to save lives every day.  
  • Healthcare costs continue to be a big challenge both nationally and regionally. From patient demographics to talent retention to the sheer costs of modern medicines, the economic realities of care are daunting. On average, almost one out of every two visitors to a medical facility in our region can’t pay for the care they need. Combine that with our below-average health profile, and that means in real terms that we seek more care with less ability to pay. That, in turn, drives higher costs.
  • Good news abounds, however. In only one example, groups of doctors in Greenville are working on combating the opioid crisis by actively considering medications that don’t include opiates in consultation with their patients. In a particularly tough challenge, opiates typically cost less than non-opiates, and that’s a spot where education is critical.

Nirvana in our healthcare system would be to improve patient outcomes and overall well-being while driving down costs, all while recruiting and retaining the very best talent possible.

Here’s the best news–our healthcare providers don’t have to face these challenges alone.

We live and work together in Eastern North Carolina, and our service economies are mutually supportive–the better neighborhoods we can shape, the more talent we can attract, and the better schools we can maintain the more Dr. Nifongs we can inspire.

Strategically, recognizing the ecosystem and how it interacts is perhaps the most valuable skill we can develop. Despite our geography, we are indeed reminded that no place is an island.

Tess Judge

Tess Judge is a community leader in Northeastern North Carolina and serves on several boards, including The Outer Banks Hospital, Outer Banks Development Council, and Vidant Health Foundation. She resides in Kitty Hawk.

“Sound Strategy”, a weekly commentary from our publisher Clark Twiddy, features issues, ideas and information focused on our mission statement of “Covering the Business News of the Greater Outer Banks”.

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