Coffee Fund for a Road Trip – Lessons for Healthcare

In Editorial by Edmund Kwok1 Comment

Guest post by Shawn Mondoux.

Suppose that you had worked your entire life and put away savings, small amounts from each paycheck that had gone into a fund that you were accumulating over 20 or more years of work. The goal of this money was to cover the cost of a dream trip with four of your closest, most intimate friends. The four of you had been pooling your money, together and in equal parts, into this same pot of money. You had bought a luxury RV which was waiting for you in Whitehorse, and you would be driving to the southernmost tip of South America … some may call this the trip of a lifetime.

The money you had put aside was going to pay for all of your expenses: food and sustenance, gas, tolls, fines, fixes, fun, etc. There was a single catch to all of this: The person who decided how to spend the money was the driver. The driver chose the restaurants, attractions, and roads that you travelled. Everybody wanted to be the driver. The driver was elected among the three other friends and one could only remain the driver if they balanced spending on their own desires with the desired spending of their friends. Together, in whitehorse, you had collectively decided on a rough budget for each category of expenses. The goal was to stick to the budget and you would make it safely to the tip of South America.

Quickly into your trip, you all realized that the trip was both amazing and very difficult for the driver. There were long hours of driving, on dangerous roads, even during the night. You all quickly realized that coffee was indispensable in your trip. The first driver was adherent to the budget and decided that you could not stop more frequently for more coffee. The next day, a new driver was elected under the premise of stopping more frequently for coffee and extending the “coffee allowance”, taking a very small amount from the other budget categories. You were all happy with this, even the former driver (after a few days), and the caffeinated trip continued.

Once you crossed into southern BC, you started noticing small coffee shops in all the small towns brewing beans they had hand selected and roasted themselves. You started stopping with a propensity for these places. Tim Horton’s no longer sufficed. Coffee became the defining comestible of your trip. Drivers were elected and deposed over this very elixir. Your coffee budget continued to inflate, but your team thought it would be manageable. After all, you all loved your coffee, so why not make more room for something important.

You then crossed into washington state and discovered Starbucks. You started stopping at each Starbucks that you saw, spending over 5$ each, every time on large, sweet delectable drinks. You became addicted, stopping more and more frequently, and spending more and more on beverages. There was some resistance to this initially. Drivers had attempted to be responsible. But now, if they brought it up, they were sure to lose their position of power. So nobody brought it up anymore.

In fact, nobody talked about it ever. If you did, you would never drive. So everybody kept quiet, and dug deeper and deeper into your collective savings, scratching here and scraping there to make ends meet. At one point, you all realized that you were spending more than 50% of your daily money on coffee. But it was so important to you, such a defining component of your trip, that nobody could let it go.

Once through central america, you had hardly any savings. You began calling your bank for a line of credit. Some of you thought this was getting crazy, others just liked the coffee. Money for gas was lacking, progress was impeded. There were moments where basic fixes on the RV went undone and when you did not eat. There was no money. You had spent it all.

This is an important analogy for the average Canadian. This is about healthcare.

You and your friends become the Canadian public, the driver becomes the government. Your RV, its fixes, restaurants, leisures, attractions and gas are all symbols of the various costs to your government. Coffee, one of these costs, is healthcare. Go back and read the story with these in mind. And ask yourself some important questions.

How much money is left in your savings (government budget)? How much of this is spent on coffee (healthcare)? Can we keep spending this much on coffee (healthcare)? Are we not fixing our RV, buying gas, going to amusement parks because of our coffee expenses (not fixing roads and infrastructure, developing education models because of our expenses on healthcare)? Could we be more responsible with the money we spend on coffee (healthcare)? When is the last time you heard your driver (government) openly talk about reducing coffee (healthcare) costs? Is coffee (healthcare) so important in electing the next driver (government)? Isn’t the best driver (government) that one that brings up the coffee (healthcare) issue, and proposes how to solve it?

Lets ask the hard questions now, so we can finish our trip through South America, and live to tell others how we did it.

Author Bio: Shawn Mondoux is an Emergency Medicine resident living and training in Ottawa, Canada. He’s technically a doctor but prefers if patients call him Shawn.

Edmund Kwok

Edmund Kwok

Emergency Medicine. Quality Improvement. Patient Safety. Change Management. Healthcare Administration.

Frontdoor 2 Healthcare

Frontdoor2Healthcare, founded by Dr. Edmund Kwok in 2012, provides editorial and commentary on issues affecting Canadian healthcare from the emergency department’s “front door” perspective. Frontdoor posts allow for open sharing of the diverse opinions and perspectives of emergency physicians from across the country.

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