Last week, I spent two days at the beautiful Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, California. The Meadowood is located in the heart of Napa Valley wine country. In addition to being a destination resort, it also serves as private club for the area’s winemaking community. I was there to deliver a luncheon keynote for the Leadership Institute on how information technology and the Net are changing clinical practice. My audience consisted of hospital CEOs and physician executives from across the US.
Since the meeting was being held in Napa, one of the extracurricular activities was a wine education seminar conducted by the resort’s director of wine education, Mr. Gilles de Chambure. Mr. Chambure is literally a walking encyclopedia of all things related to wine history and winemaking. We learned that man has been making wine for more than 7000 years. Its history and production are closely tied to periods of economic prosperity. Did you know that the United States is the fourth largest wine producer in the world (behind Italy, France, and Spain)? 80 percent of US wine comes from California, but only 4 percent from the Napa Valley.
Land in Napa is selling these days for upwards of $300,000 an acre and you’ll need a minimum of 20 acres (40 if on a hillside) to start a winery there. It will take at least 4 years and lots of pruning before your vines produce enough quality grapes to make wine. It will take another 4 years for your wine to age and reach the market. So 8 years after you have spent millions of dollars to start your winery, only then might you begin to see some return on your investment. Is it any wonder so few wineries actually make a profit!
Did you also know that if served in a black glass to obscure its color, many people cannot discern the difference between a red and white wine by taste alone? So claims Mr. Chambure. Wine is a very personal experience.
Healthcare is also a very personal experience. Like fine wine, most consumers judge healthcare quality on highly subjective, and often wrong, criteria. Likewise, both fine wine and quality healthcare are sensitive to economic downturns. One CEO who was attending the meeting told me his business is down 8 percent. He attributed this to the bad economy and a lighter than usual flu season. He said the most challenging aspect for hospital management right now is staffing. Do you let people go? What would you do if trends suddenly reverse or there’s an outbreak of infectious disease? I suppose this CEO is fortunate as I have heard from other colleagues that business in some American hospitals is down as much as 29 percent.
Healthcare and winemaking have much in common. Both are subject to the vagaries of the economy. Both require heavy investments up front. Average consumers don’t know much about the true parameters of quality. Pruning isn’t optional, and you’ll need plenty of patience (or should I say patients) to make a go of it.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation