Supreme opportunity for healthcare communicators

The Supreme Court recently made the decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act during a transformational and unprecedented time in healthcare in the US.

The Supreme Court recently made the decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act during a transformational and unprecedented time in healthcare in the US. The good news is that the law makes great progress to provide more Americans with access to care and it begins to set some standards for more consistent, quality offerings. However, much more needs to be done to address rising healthcare costs that account for nearly 17% of the Gross Domestic Product. Thankfully, the rules have now been defined for the public and for the healthcare industry. The question now: where do we go from here?

Going forward, three key issues are access, quality, and costs. Each requires broader understanding of actions that the private sector and the healthcare industry need to address head on. Now that 33 million more people will soon be insured, how do we get them to actually utilize the healthcare system and actively take control of their health? How do we make quality more transparent to the public so they have the best information available to them when deciding where to go for treatment? Costs are continuing to rise because people are living longer and new treatments and technologies are available to take care of them. However, the obesity epidemic is not only causing rising healthcare costs (20% of healthcare costs by 2020), but also accounts for 40% of premature deaths related to the astonishing rate of chronic diseases across the country. 

As communication pros, we now have to educate the public about these issues and drive conversations around healthcare solutions that reduce costs, focus on efficiencies, and promote wellness initiatives. The consequences of inaction will only set us back further.

Cleveland Clinic has recently announced a partnership with Ohio University's medical school to start a program in northeast Ohio to increase the number of primary care physicians in our area to address the physician shortage. We post our clinical outcomes, including mortality rates, on our website for all to see. We have publicly supported smoke-free initiatives in Ohio, signed a Healthy Cleveland wellness initiative with Mayor Frank Jackson, and worked with our city schools to promote healthy eating and nutritious lunches. We also partnered with our Cleveland Indians' to orchestrate a “Let's Move It” campaign to promote wellness and get people walking around the stadium.

Strong communication around healthcare is not limited to hospital PR offices. Thousands of employers are doing similar great work to promote smoke-free environments and wellness in their workplaces to help curve the costs of healthcare. We've done it and have seen tremendous results. 

The power of the media and strong communications can help influence behavior, drive motivation, and help to make “being healthy” a good thing. Hopefully, that will catch on and we'll become a healthier, more productive nation.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column will focus on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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