The midterm election produced some clear winners, and from an issue perspective, healthcare unquestionably came out on top. More than 70% of voters identified it as their top priority. The Democratic surge was fueled by messaging around healthcare, particularly the need to protect pre-existing conditions under the Affordable Care Act. Post-election, there are have been more developments that have catapulted healthcare into the news.
With the Texas court ruling in December that would invalidate most of the ACA, advocates and newly elected Democrats are scrambling to protect the law. This will play out in the courts, on the Hill and in the media. At the same time, prescription drug prices and the opioid crisis will drive health policy in this new Congress. With a 2020 election now on the horizon, Medicare for all is the battle cry of progressive Democrats and reducing drug prices is a priority for candidates of both parties.
Healthcare issues will now be front and center of legislative initiatives at the federal and state level, and the focus of extensive news coverage. As high profile as this was in 2018, the new year will bring more intensity and focus to issues. The healthcare conversation is just getting amped up.
With healthcare so much a part of the media and policy landscape, there is a compelling opportunity today for providers to meet a consumer need and become a trusted resource through "thought leadership."
Companies like Johnson & Johnson have long recognized the value of thought leadership in building their brands and advancing company objectives. Think of J&J's 16-year commitment to supporting nurses. For J&J, the campaign is at the heart of their credo, which reads in part: "We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients … who use our products and services."
Mega-brands like the Cleveland Clinic engage in thought leadership; the Clinic most recently sponsored the 2018 Innovation Summit and released a top 10 list of innovations projected for 2019. Yet despite the patient care mission of most healthcare organizations, thought leadership around health policy, access to care and public health issues is the exception rather than the rule.
Today, consumers have opened a door for those in healthcare leadership. They are paying attention as never before to their own health and the health of their families. Very significantly, they are concerned about what's happening in their local communities, from the opioid epidemic to mental health, from violence prevention to access to care.
Thought leadership, then, is not just an opportunity for hospitals and health systems that have, or want to have, a national voice. The benefits can be close to home and regional in scope.
Differentiates you from your competitors
Advances your mission
Attracts workforce talent, particularly among millennials who respond positively to organizations that take a stand and focus on their purpose
Can increase employee engagement
Strengthens community relationships
As you consider your options, here is one recent example of thought leadership focused on local issues.
Recently, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth came face to face with the opioid epidemic in their community. It was revealed that a drug dealer was using prescription pads stolen from the hospital's ED to stock his opioid supply. Rather than run from this PR nightmare, the situation "became the rallying cry for action led by BID-Plymouth," wrote Christopher Smalley, the hospital's director of marketing and communications, in the January-February 2018 issue of Spectrum.
BID-Plymouth conducted research, established an internal team of experts, partnered with stakeholders and leveraged existing channels of communication and outreach to make a difference for those with addictions and their families. They won a $500,000 grant to pilot their initial work, and now have much more significant state support. They are seeing progress in their community, and "BID-Plymouth has become an acknowledged leader in the fight against opioid addiction," Smalley wrote.
Is there a similar opportunity to build a thought leadership platform in your organization? Four steps to get started:
Identify the health-related issues that are most important in your own community. Have formal and informal conversations with community leaders and area residents, use your existing social media channels to start conversations and audit local media coverage. What issue is affecting your neighbors that is timely and that you can "own"?
Following the J&J model, choose the issue that ties to your mission and identify your internal experts. Who already has credibility on the topic? With your help and guidance, is there an individual or team of experts who can speak to the community's concerns, provide answers to key questions and generate thoughtful dialogue?
Integrate thought leadership into all aspects of communications. It is not a stand-alone program. The effectiveness will depend on using all the channels available through integrated marketing communications, from social media and advertising to media relations and community outreach.
Secure a long-term commitment to this strategy from the top. Keep in mind that J&J has been a leader on nursing issues for 16 years. This last point is perhaps the most important aspect of thought leadership. It is not a direct-response approach to marketing communications. It is, instead, an approach that will see achievements over time, with great rewards for those hospitals and systems willing to make the commitment to their mission, communities, patients and staff.
Healthcare has never been more prominent as a consumer and policy issue. The time has come for hospitals and health systems to seize thought leadership opportunities. The benefits are clear for both providers and the consumers they serve.