Getting to the heart of healthcare reform

Healthcare in the US is in a period of unprecedented transformation. As such, communicators in the sector have to really step up their game to navigate a complex landscape.

Healthcare in the US is in a period of unprecedented transformation. As such, communicators in the sector have to really step up their game to navigate a complex landscape.

The cost of healthcare represents the largest percentage of the nation's gross domestic product. With an aging population and a rise in chronic diseases and obesity, the cost of providing care is continuing to go up as well.

Healthcare reform has forced a rather inefficient industry to reinvent and challenge itself to drive down costs while maintaining high-quality care to patients. Hospitals that are working hard to develop innovative programs that focus on efficiency, reduce duplication of services, share best practices, and continue to drive quality of care will be far ahead of those who do not. Tackling this requires a strategy, resources, in-depth knowledge, a skilled work force, and the tools necessary to do the tough work.

As Medicaid is becoming the dominant portion of state budgets, the uninsured population continues to grow due to the economy and unemployment. At the same time, many more – an expected 32 million Americans – will be added to Medicaid programs. These are mere examples that don't begin to scratch the surface of the challenges ahead.   

As communicators, it's time to do our homework and take a deep look into how these issues, along with many others, will affect our hospitals. PR pros must work side by side with leaders to fully understand the issues that will have the greatest impact.

Developing a strong story and consistent messages for all audiences is critical. It will strengthen your voice and build confidence and trust among your stakeholders so they know what to expect from you and understand why change is necessary.

Cleveland Clinic has been focusing on the core issues for several years. We have recognized that not all hospitals can be everything to everyone. We're consolidating services, driving efficiencies, and establishing centers of clinical excellence to benefit our patients and provide care in the appropriate setting.

On the surface, the story seems quite simple. In reality, though, the communications challenges translate into real change that affects the lives of employees, patients, and the community. Driving efficiency and reducing duplication of services can translate into closing a hospital, downsizing a workforce, or changing services that a community relies upon. It could mean a new collaboration with a competitor or a new alliance with another health system.

These are extraordinarily challenging times in healthcare. As communicators, our role is critical and should be a part of the decision-making process, not just the end game. Work closely with your leaders and be β€œat the table.” Your input is crucial in the steps your organization takes to do the right thing and survive during uncertain times.

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

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