Sometimes events present us with a seismic shift in the environment. And often when that happens, we have to have new language to describe the altered terrain. Inevitably there are gaps in our understanding. Familiar frames of reference become obsolete. We keep trying to look at the world through an old lens that no longer is correctly focused.
The health care sector is full of examples of this. For example, when there is an emerging pathogen in play – like the early days of AIDS, or MERS, or SARS or even Ebola moving from a foreign shore to our own – rumor often runs ahead of fact. New terms are introduced but understanding is scant. It is practically a law of nature – where there is a vacuum in information, it is soon filled by the projection of others.
But rapid change is not limited to emerging pathogens. It can be when technology moves ahead at a rapid clip – like social media – leaving many behind (like FDA) and where myths can easily arise (it is only for kids). And it can be about policy change as well. We have only to look at the unfolding of the debate around the Affordable Care Act where “end of life care” and benefits got translated into “death panels”.
There are two areas where some of these seismic type of shifts could occur in healthcare. We would do well now to prepare for the communications challenges later.
The first is with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in the House of Representatives this summer – also known as H.R.6. The vote was 344-77, which in and of itself is something of a wow factor. If the Senate moves and this piece of legislation becomes law, it will institute a huge change in healthcare today – from the way that clinical trials are conducted to the way we access care. There is virtually no stakeholder in healthcare who would not be affected by this Act. The fact that there is a gap in time between the overwhelming passage in the House and its resolution in the Senate means two things. First there is going to be some on-going debate and second, the time is now to get caught up on what the bill does and does not do and how it will change not only our care, but our vernacular when it comes to talking about our health care.
The other area chomping at the bit to burst into a wider reality comes with Telemedicine. There have been a number of surveys about acceptance of the notion of Telemedicine and a recent survey publicized in mobilhealthnews found that 41 percent of American consumer had never heard of telemedicine. As public understanding of Telemedicine may be scant, the fact is that the policy and regulatory aspects of it are going to be debated at the federal and state levels. This is a time for many key stakeholders – from providers to medical societies to payers – to get a firm grasp of the implications and develop their communications to help shape consumer understanding as well as policy.
Because communications is the lynch pin to public understanding, or lack thereof, when the environment quickly undergoes change, looking around the corner and preparing early can save a good deal of headache later. Good communications early can save on the effort to undo bad communications later.