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For over a year I’ve been the accidental manager of a community garden. All I did — I swear — is point out an open plot of land and people started pitching in, planting, asking friends to join them. All of a sudden we’d transformed a bare patch into something beautiful.Sunflowers

I thought for sure that interest would wane. I’d be left with a lovely little garden to tend on my own and I’d probably let it go after a while. But new people kept showing up to help. I frankly wasn’t ready but they came in, planted new flowers, and invited their friends to come over. They expanded the original plot and just kept going.

OK, so, before I take the metaphor too far, I should reveal that I’m not talking about a real garden. The community didn’t plant flowers. They planted ideas about what health care could be like if we remade it, without regard for money, politics, or any other reality.

What if we could create a better chronic care system by harnessing inherent motivation & collective intelligence of patients & clinicians? #whatifhc – @C3NProject

What if more Americans accepted that shopping at farmer’s markets costs less than food courts in the long term? #whatifhc – @GoalsGamified

What if people actually took the advice of public health: stop smoking, get outside, eat fresh food, reconnect with friends? #whatifhc – @klimaz

What if looking at my medical information and records were as easy as checking my email? #whatifhc – @MeganHatch

I didn’t grasp the importance of what we were doing until I read this post by Seth Godin: Paracosms, loyalty and reality in the pursuit of creative problem solving. As he writes:

“The most effective, powerful way to envision the future is to envision it, all of it, including a future that doesn’t include your sacred cows. Only then can you try it on for size, imagine what the forces at work might be and then work to either prevent (or even better, improve on) that future and your role in it.”

A simple hashtag — #whatifhc — became a portal to an imaginary future. Hundreds of people stepped through it, playing the game, adding to the daisy chain of dreams.

Some of my favorite moments are when people respond to each other, like this exchange:

What if health care wasn’t scary and actually fun? #whatifhc – @frandickson

To that end, I’ve tried for my son… #whatifhc – @savingcase

It turns out that Melissa Hogan (aka @savingcase) has written a book filled with strategies designed to reduce medical trauma for a child facing multiple treatments.

I also loved seeing contributions from corporations and government entities:

What if health care brought forward holistic, innovative, valued solutions that help patients, providers + payers improve healthcare? #whatifhc – @GSKUS (GlaxoSmithKline US)

What if health care invested more resources to promote and communicate disease prevention strategies? #whatifhc – @NCIHINTS (National Cancer Institute’s Health Information National Trends Survey)

I’ve learned about initiatives I’d never heard of before, like the International Charter for Human Values in Healthcare. And I’ve thought about whether #whatifhc could turn into something more — a cohesive list, a more organized conversation, or even a movement toward reform.

But I decided that’s not my role. I’m not an activist. I’m not a policymaker. I’m a researcher. I ask questions and make connections. I’ll keep the gate open to our friendly, community paracosm for as long as people want to contribute to it. You never know who you might meet in the neighboring plot, as you plant your idea. You never know what kind of magic seed your idea may turn out to be, reaching to the skies like a beanstalk.

So, what’s your health care dream? Tweet it with the #whatifhc hashtag and I’ll add it to the growing Storify. Post it here in the comments or start your own garden plot on Facebook, Google+, or elsewhere.


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