The Canadian Marketing Association recently released a paper, as part of its Leadership Series, called Sustainability: Why Marketing Needs to be Firmly Rooted in the Movement. My colleague François Taschereau and I are pleased to have contributed to the paper on behalf of Weber Shandwick. My commentary about the series follows below.
The idea of sustainability has become a driver of profitability, shared value and long-term success. Companies that fully embrace and integrate sustainability realize business gains and deeper relationships with a broader base of customers — but only if they are committed to real, meaningful action and only if they communicate their commitment effectively.
In its business context, sustainability has come to represent the way a company manages what is known as the triple bottom line – profits, people and the planet. From a marketing and communications standpoint, sustainability embodies how a company sources, promotes, sells and distributes its products or services in the most responsible way possible and in a way that embeds, integrates and engages all of the important communities with which it interacts.
This morning, the Supreme Court issued its much anticipated ruling regarding the constitutionality of certain provisions within the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s healthcare reform, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010. In a nutshell, it upheld the constitutionality of the ACA, most significantly the individual mandate.
With today’s Court’s ruling – and given the highly contentious nature of the law and the high level of media inquiries around the ruling - we wanted to provide an analysis of what we believe will play out in the months ahead, and offer topline communications implications.
The Court ruled that the ACA’s individual mandate requiring virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance was constitutional under the power to “lay and collect taxes.” Therefore, the Federal Government has the authority to impose a tax on anyone who chooses not to buy health insurance.
The Court ruled that requiring states to participate in Medicaid expansion, or suffer a penalty, is unconstitutional. States have a right to decide not to participate in Medicaid expansion. If they do not participate, they will still receive funding for existing Medicaid programs. But, if states do decide to participate, they will have to meet all the criteria for expansion.
While the Court’s ruling creates clear resolution regarding ACA’s constitutionality, the communications and policy battles over healthcare are far from settled. The question of the appropriate role of government in healthcare delivery, and the allocation of funding for healthcare by the federal government and states is a long-term journey, not likely to be settled any time in the near future. Congress will try but not succeed in repealing the law. While there may be changes, the law will be around for the foreseeable future. In the short term, the Court’s ruling determines with greater precision the battle lines of what will continue to be blistering, no-holds-barred partisan rancor over healthcare policy. Expect that both political parties will continue to wage heated battles over the issue heading into the November election and beyond.
As was the case during the course of the healthcare reform debate, there will be pressure from both political parties for companies in the healthcare sector to pick a side. Companies should avoid getting pulled into political arguments.
Regardless of who wins the White House, fiscal realities will force both political parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to revisit healthcare policy. Rising healthcare costs and pressure to address the annual budget deficits and the national debt will force policy makers – both in Washington and in state capitals - to deal with financing healthcare coverage. More than 20 percent of the federal budget - $769 billion - is devoted to health care with two thirds of that amount paying for Medicare. Any serious effort to address budget deficits has to address these rising expenditures.
Look for opportunities to begin shaping the next chapter of healthcare debate in 2013 as attention focuses on cost containment, and depending on the outcome of elections, renewed efforts at repeal. Additionally, there are technical fixes that need to be made to the law and policy issues that will emerge from implementation. There may be policy solutions where visible engagement could enhance your brand and leadership, and bipartisan efforts could well emerge to improve the law.
It is worth a reminder that the political rhetoric of both parties on the healthcare reform subject falls well short of an accurate picture of either the state of healthcare in America or the content of the ACA. By its own admission the Obama Administration has struggled to explain and convince the public of the value of the ACA despite the presence of popular provisions of the law, such as eliminating the donut hole for seniors; allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26; and, prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history.
Recent polling indicates that only 18% of the public say they feel they understand what’s in the law very well. Regardless of the reasons for the communication shortcomings, the Supreme Court ruling will again challenge the Administration to articulate the law’s benefits.
As was true with enactment of ACA, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will be less interested in reasonable dialogue and explanation, and more focused on scoring political points prior to the elections in November. Take care to articulate and communicate the ACA’s impact relevant to your company’s stakeholders.
When it comes to its role in healthcare, the term “social media” is a glaring misnomer. I mean, come on. So-called social media, as applied to the physician-patient relationship – to cite just one example – has little or nothing to do with the networking usually done online among friends, family and job-seekers alike.
So agreed several forward-looking experts representing pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and hospitals at a recent New York University forum about social media in healthcare. Indeed, just about everyone engaged in healthcare social media is still figuring out what works best.
No wonder. Most healthcare professionals remain reluctant to network with patients for medical care. Only about 20 percent of U.S. hospitals have a social media presence.
This hesitancy is understandable and justifiable, given prevailing legal, regulatory and ethical concerns. Questions about some of the elephants in the room – reimbursement protocols, malpractice liability, privacy and security safeguards – remain largely unanswered.
Still, the move among healthcare providers into social media is likely inevitable. The Affordable Care Act – and more specifically, Meaningful Use regulations, the Medicare Shared Savings Program and the push toward accountable care – are driving healthcare professionals in that direction.
Here are some other telling insights from the NYU panel discussion about healthcare social media:
• “Adopt the right voice,” said Brian Mulligan, Assistant Vice President of Public Relations, North Shore-LIJ Health System. “Social media is all about what people want to hear rather than what you want to tell. Listening to what patients are saying about you is easier than ever before. We avoid being overly promotional. We try almost to be anti-PR, anti-marketing.”
• “’What’s in it for me?’ That’s the question physicians still ask about social media,” said Brian McGowan, Ph.D., columnist, author and technology consultant. “We need to research that. We need to identify the incentives that will motivate MDs to cooperate and collaborate rather than compete. But it’s learned behavior, and also a Catch-22. How can you convince a doctor – or anyone, for that matter – to do something for the first time without any case studies demonstrating ROI?”
• Healthcare is 24/7, going well beyond a stay in the hospital,” said Charlotte McKines, Global Vice President for Marketing Communications & Channel Strategy at Merck & Co., Inc. “It’s an ongoing experience, and patients and professionals have to get real-time intelligence. And while the pharma industry waits for the FDA’s guidance about social media, we should do our own recommendations.”
More broadly, physicians should follow certain guiding principles about adopting social media.
• Understand the environment. Educate yourself about current practices and ask questions of your peers.
• Drop your prejudice against social media as a potential tool for advancing medical care. Just as patients go online to find treatment advice, so, too, should you consider the value of delivering services directly to your target audience.
• Take a role in defining the future of social media in healthcare. Engage with stakeholders as well as communications experts. Only then can you truly learn exactly what you need to know.
About three years ago, physicians diagnosed Charlotte McKines with breast cancer. As global vice president at Merck & Co., Inc. – and thus probably savvier as a patient than most – Charlotte immediately went online. She clicked onto breastcancer.org and posted that she needed help.
Within an hour she had received responses from 50 people, all ready with answers to her questions. “That’s the beauty of social media for patients,” McKines said at a recent educational event in New York City. “It’s all about having an ongoing dialogue.”
Linda Bruenner, appearing in the forum at New York University’s Business Development Institute, has likewise witnessed firsthand the favorable influence of social media on patients. A vice president of web operations management for Siemens Healthcare, Linda she told how Siemens launched an online breast cancer awareness campaign called “Turn Your City Pink,” with a YouTube video featured front and center. The goal was to create a “global pink ribbon” with 10,000 participants.
As it turned out, Siemens enlisted 10,000 supporters within 14 days, with no fewer than 94 countries joining in building a “ribbon of hope.” “We had to stretch our boundaries for this initiative,” Bruenner said. “But as a result, our video – and the ribbon itself – went literally around the world.”
And yet healthcare professionals and organizations alike – particularly physicians – are doing nowhere enough to take advantage of social media for the sake of helping patients.
At least so claimed Brian McGowan, Ph.D., a columnist, author and technology consultant who is currently researching a book about how social media can help “fix” healthcare. In the most provocative presentation at the HCP Healthcare Social Communications Leadership Forum, McGowan revealed research he has conducted showing, for example, that physicians deploy social media much less frequently for medical practice than previous reports have suggested.
Even though more than 50 percent of physicians say they believe social media can improve the quality of care, McGowan said, only 4 percent turn to Facebook for professional purposes, and only 2 percent to Twitter. Moreover, 26 percent of physicians he surveyed said they will “never” use Facebook in medical practice, with 33 percent saying the same about Twitter and 22 percent about blogs.
“I apply to social media the same definition we apply to electronic health records,” McGowan said. “Do we see meaningful use? Does social media, in fact, enhance the practice of medicine? Does it, in fact, promote public health – the learning and sharing of information and knowledge? My hypothesis is that not only can social media benefit patients, it can also improve medical practice.”
Consider this case in point. A few years ago, a patient with a health problem went to the emergency room at North Shore-LIJ Health System and waited for service. And waited. And finally tweeted about waiting. And within minutes, a staffer at the hospital, assigned to monitor social media – including the twittersphere – spotted the tweet voicing the grievance and dispatched a colleague to the ER.
“Wow!” the patient said. “Your hospital is really following us!”
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