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Top Ten Strategies for Success

By Dr. Evan Saulino
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Health care is complicated.  There are a lot of grey areas.  It’s hard to break into straightforward explanations.  There are plenty of concepts and even basic language that just doesn’t make sense to most people.  When many doctors, health advocates, or policymakers speak about health care and health reform, we too often find ourselves lost in jargon. We weave about with “phalanges” or “pityriasis rosea”, or “left ventricular end-diastolic pressure”, or “essential benefit packages”, or “pre-existing conditions”, or “dual-eligibles”. 

But the best communicators in any profession, and certainly the most effective medical professionals, recognize the critical value of communicating with people where they are, in a way they can most readily receive information.   

As a primary care physician with a side-career in advocacy/policy/communications, I have studied effective behavioral change strategies, education strategies, health literacy literature, Herndon Alliance and other polling research, and cognitive science research.  I’ve learned from what’s been effective with culturally, economically, and geographically diverse audiences – not focus groups, but real people, real communities.  It’s become a bit of an overzealous “thing” for me to try and figure out how best to communicate with Americans about how health care works now, and how we can make everyone’s health better. 

I‘ve boiled down the communication strategies I’ve found successful into the following Top Ten Strategies for Success.

I’ve named them big on purpose.

These basic principles should provide a framework for any medical professional to successfully engage patients or the public about health care issues no matter where you are or with whom you’re talking.    

Maybe you’ll find them obvious, maybe too incomplete and open to interpretation (“what the H*$? does #6 mean, Saulino?”).  Maybe you’ll find them insightful.

But don’t you just read them and do nothing.

I’m sharing my Top Ten with you so you can join me, and engage others. Help us change the tone of the conversation about health care in America.  We have an opportunity to work together and design/implement solutions at the level of our patients, our communities, and our nation. 

But judging from the latest national conversation about contraception, there’s a whole lot of communication groundwork we need to do to get us closer to constructive national conversations…Let’s get rolling!

Top Ten Strategies for Success 

  1. Start with Why – as the video in the link demonstrates, the most important thing to explain, and the most often missed.  Why do you care? Why should anyone else care? 
  2. Engage. Don’t start where you want to be, meet people where they are.
  3. Speak from the heart. Speak to the heart.
  4. We are the solution. Recognize that doing nothing is not an option.
  5. Real-life matters. Real stories and experiences are most powerful.
  6. Focus on treating root causes, not just symptoms.
  7. The facts, just the facts

For example:

  The truth: What the Affordable Care Act is really about.

  • Coverage - 32 million more Americans with insurance coverage
  • Security - Stronger insurance market regulation to protect you
  • Prevention
  • Innovation - the smart way to fix problems is to find what works better
  • Reject divisiveness. Focus together on solutions.
      8. The facts, just the facts
      9. Start a conversation – always circle back to Why and the conversation will continue
      10. What now?  Don’t leave anyone hanging – leave them empowered to do something so they know/feel listening to you was worth their time. 

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