Narrowly focused conversations are stunting efforts to improve system-wide health care cost issues. Effective health communications should seek to address the “big picture” to help drive solutions forward.
Schadenfreude: As a graduate of the University of North Carolina (UNC), I felt genuine joy watching Duke get knocked out of March Madness, particularly as many fans and analysts believed the Blue Devils would cut down the nets this year.
But even after Michigan State upset Duke, there were sensational headlines touting the dominance of Duke’s Zion Williamson. While Zion was a deservedly key player to watch, he wasn’t the only player to watch. Two teams who have never made the Final Four before — Auburn and Texas Tech — usurped teams with legendary basketball programs. Focusing only on Zion ignores the big picture: What makes this tournament interesting is the fact that anyone, even an underdog, can win.
But this isn’t just about basketball — there’s a lesson to be learned for health care, as well. Like reporting on just one basketball player, focusing on just one industry in the conversation around the high cost of care is short-sighted. Finger pointing at just one actor is an oversimplification of our health care system and disregards the most important player: patients.
In our story, patients are the underdogs who deserve our attention because they are fighting for their lives. We owe it to them to have solutions-oriented conversations, rather than narrowly focusing on one person to blame in the care supply chain.
As health care leaders engage in conversations on reform to address high costs, here are a few guiding principles to ensure the messages you’re developing as a communications professional are constructive, inclusive and — ultimately — heard.
If you’re being targeted, acknowledge your role.
Every actor in the care supply chain contributes to the increasing costs of health care. I would challenge any one stakeholder to say, “I do not have an impact on the cost of medicines or health care services for patients.”
If you want to cut through the noise of the debate on the high cost of care, you must acknowledge that you are a part of the problem, or anything you say will fall on deaf ears. Your messages should take responsibility for your role and demonstrate how you are now working to make the system better for patients.
If you’re pointing the finger, broaden your focus.
By blaming a single actor, focus is taken off the big picture and, often, this cacophony drowns out the point of reform: improving outcomes for patients. Remember that health care is more than just one medicine or service, and more than just one industry is providing it.
As you’re working with groups you believe contribute to the cost of care, consider the “big picture”: Are they responding to market dynamics? How do the actions of other stakeholders impact them? As you’re doing so, your messages should reflect this holistic approach and focus on the direct impact proposed changes to our health system will have on patients.
No matter who you are, seek out unexpected collaborations.
Health care leaders must work together to identify solutions that can move forward. Ultimately, system-wide change will be needed to ensure people can afford their health care. As the conversation shifts in this direction, you will need to engage groups you’ve likely disagreed with in the past.
By demonstrating your willingness to work with others, you’re identifying an avenue for the conversation to shift from theoretical solutions to actionable change. This cross-industry dialogue will be critical to ensure solutions positively impact our health care system and the patients it serves.
So, even as a fan who bleeds Carolina blue, I will thank Zion Williamson — or at least the reporters who love to talk about him. Because although comparing basketball to our health care system seems trivial, it allows us to take a step back, recognize whether we are seeing the full picture and identify how to talk about these key issues.
Emma Berry is a senior account executive in the Porter Novelli Washington D.C. office.