It’s a reflection of our times: if you’re in healthcare youmust also have political smarts. Issues like Medicaid, access to care, FDA andNIH 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 healthcareand think strategically about how we communicate.

We can start with the way health and medical coverage hasmigrated from the science pages to the business pages. Healthcare is bigbusiness, of course, and pharmaceutical industry performance and the excitementcreated by waves of biotech investment should get proper notice. But this focuson 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 todifferentiate products and gain market share has also, in some cases, helped tofuel antipathy toward the industry. DTC has made household names of a number ofbrands, but has not enhanced public trust. We’re not making our best effort toproperly set expectations or adequately communicate risk/benefit when cuteanimated characters are used.

 We’re hurt bythe poor public understanding of science and the ability to communicate it. Itwas reported that the first Vioxx case was lost well before the conclusion ofall 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 aNew York Times piece on science literacy. Jon D. Miller, director of the Centerfor Biomedical Communications at the Northwestern University Medical Schoolsaid, “People’s inability to understand basic scientific concepts underminestheir ability to take part in the democratic process.”

Paul Oestreicher,PhD, is president of Oestreicher Communications