Bringing healthcare comms into the 21st century

As a nation, we have taken one step in a long journey to create the model of healthcare for the 21st century.

The US is in the midst of an unprecedented and much-needed transformation in healthcare. The current system was designed in the 1950s and not equipped to care for current and future populations. Healthcare costs continue to rise due to an aging population, an increase in chronic diseases and obesity, advances in medical technology, and more.
 
In addition, doctors are financially rewarded for doing more procedures and treatments for patients, not for doing the right thing for patients. Transforming our healthcare system is necessary to enhance quality, reduce costs, and drive efficiencies in the way care is delivered to patients. The current system is unsustainable. And, of course, communicating all this is complex, but vitally important.
 
These challenges have been evolving over many years and have driven the need to transform our healthcare system. As the landscape changes, uncertainty remains. Hospitals must chart a course for the future and redefine how care is delivered to patients. Hospitals are developing innovative ways to work together as larger systems and preparing to care for the patient of the future – population-based, value-driven, and affordable, as cost transparency evolves and patients become more engaged in their care.
 
Healthcare accounts for roughly 17% of the gross domestic product and is rising. Since Cleveland Clinic was held up as a model for the future, reporters were surprised to learn that we were not immune to some of these changes. We recently announced a $330 million cut in our 2014 budget that may include a workforce reduction. We held an “all-hands” employee meeting to share the changes and what they would mean. We received nearly 50 media calls over the next few days.
 
Helping the public, employees, stakeholders, and others understand the impact of these factors is no simple task. Communication needs to be clear and simple. It must be delivered through various vehicles and multiple times to a broad array of audiences. We wrote op-eds, for example, on the need for Medicaid expansion in our state to cover nearly 275,000 Ohioans without medical coverage. We posted blogs on LinkedIn about a variety of topics and met with numerous national reporters to discuss the need for reform and what works in the delivery of healthcare. In a nutshell, we must drive down costs, improve quality care to patients, and deliver it in the most efficient manner.
 
Healthcare reform is necessary. As a nation, we have taken one step in a long journey to create the model of healthcare for the 21st century. As communications professionals in this industry, we have a challenge and opportunity to help the public understand why they should care.

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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