PR View by Paul Oestreicher

It's a reflection of our times: if you're in healthcare you must also have political smarts. Issues like Medicaid, access to care, FDA and NIH funding and stem cell research are all political footballs.  So, as this political season heats up, we should be mindful of the trends that feed into the politics of healthcare and think strategically about how we communicate.

We can start with the way health and medical coverage has migrated from the science pages to the business pages. Healthcare is big business, of course, and pharmaceutical industry performance and the excitement created by waves of biotech investment should get proper notice. But this focus on Wall Street has had a growing effect of linking profitability with greed, while creating an information vacuum in other sectors of the media.

 The fight to differentiate products and gain market share has also, in some cases, helped to fuel antipathy toward the industry. DTC has made household names of a number of brands, but has not enhanced public trust. We're not making our best effort to properly set expectations or adequately communicate risk/benefit when cute animated characters are used.

 We're hurt by the poor public understanding of science and the ability to communicate it. It was reported that the first Vioxx case was lost well before the conclusion of all the testimony. “We didn't know what the heck they were talking about,” juror John Ostrom told The Wall Street Journal. This point is driven home in a New York Times piece on science literacy. Jon D. Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at the Northwestern University Medical School said, “People's inability to understand basic scientific concepts undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process.”

Paul Oestreicher, PhD, is president of Oestreicher Communications 

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