Contentious debates deserve facts, not hyperbole, from PR

As an Army brat, I learned there are situations where you live by the command, like it or not.

As an Army brat, I learned there are situations where you live by the command, like it or not. One can feel constrained by certain regulations and legal concerns.

This experience drew me to Daniel McIntyre's recent PRWeekus.com piece, "Permission to speak freely." He advised healthcare communicators to guide employers and clients to respectful, candid conversations that inform the public, rather than add hyperbole to a heated issue.

While it is good to facilitate such dialogue, communicators can do more than bring civility to the debate. PR goes beyond simply managing the flow of information. Broad, honest conversations over difficult issues must include scientific facts because such data can be the stabilizing force in heated, but necessary, discussions.

Many healthcare organizations champion this strategy. Healthcare communicators are bringing together engaged stakeholders who seek fact-based information that can be used in balanced, complex debates. We continue to seek ways to implement a better healthcare system that covers everyone, curbs costs responsibly, and ensures access to the right care at the right time. We fought for the creation of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute in the Affordable Care Act, which will provide evidence-based information to help us better understand prevention, treatment, and care options.

Americans are often presented with a who-won, who-lost scorecard of policy catfights, leaving them confused about the important details of the actual policy. Websites such as Factcheck.org and Politifact.com are designed to distinguish policy facts from rhetorical fiction, but the message struggles to be heard through the deluge of overheated chatter that plagues the healthcare reform debate.

Imagine how productive communicators would be in crafting pragmatic solutions for clients and employers if more of us offered an objective viewpoint and championed the use of scientific fact. At a time of irascible dialogue, we owe the public much more than just a catchy slogan that does little to aid in this key public debate.

A more robust, patient-focused delivery system can be achieved if we realize that honest value in healthcare comes at the confluence of fact-based, objective research and the personal circumstances of patients.

It is time for communicators to encourage and lead fact-based discussions in a disciplined manner. Facts, not overheated rhetoric, must dominate our counsel.

Nancy Hughes is 2011 chair of the PRSA Health Academy and assistant VP of communications and marketing at the National Health Council.

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