Can Two Words Transform Pediatric Healthcare?

October 2020

Two simple words have changed lives across the age span and spectrum of cultures and societies: "I Can." The power of positivity has fueled unprecedented success in education, business, science, and technology. It is time to do the same in health care. For the 14 million US children with congenital or chronic health conditions, medical and surgical advances mean that survival is now the expectation. However, appallingly little in pediatric health care exists to move beyond mere survival toward encouraging optimal health. When children are labeled early in life as “diseased” or as congenitally “defective,” have we in medicine unwittingly put a lid on how the child and their family see their potential?  Health care traditionally has used negative language around reversal of disease to return to a former state of health. A major exception has been recent attention on wellness, in which patients actively seek ways to live a meaningful life rather than aiming for the absence of disease. But what if a “disease” or condition is an integral part of these children, not to be avoided? How does our negative language affect possibilities toward ideal health? The present proposal is to dig into our language to define a novel sector of pediatric health care that promotes “wellness” or optimism for children. The charge will be to find new terms to articulate the message of “I Can” and delineate a process to move beyond words into discrete and measurable action.