With the recent announcement of later breast cancer screenings and subsequent media discussion, one question keeps coming to mind: How much of the correct information does the American public understand about health care? Like any complex issue, it is difficult for public affairs officials and journalists alike to boil down the necessary info into bite-sized chunks.
Health, much like finance or other economic issues, is a topic that requires skilled communicators to synthesize, analyze, and concisely convey the right facts. Much to the chagrin of scientists, the American public doesn’t quite understand what their research concludes. It is even difficult for government officials to understand how Americans feel about changes in health care policy. In two recent polls by The Washington Post and AP, headlines declared “widespread support” when results showed a slightly larger percentage opposed the plan.
So the questions remain: Do Americans clearly comprehend what is happening with health care policy? If not, what needs to change to the presentation of information so that it can be understood? (when social media is changing the face of news into 140 character segments, that isn’t a difficult concept to grasp). Or, can our elected officials correctly interpret our feelings on the issue?
Listening to the debate this week about breast cancer screenings, I was caught in the frenzy of trying to reconcile the new recommendations with the long-standing medical guideline. On one hand, researchers simply presented their argument in a very factual manner. If you want a thorough account of the guidelines’ history, you can check out this Washington Post article.
On the other hand, I saw reputable organizations such as the American Cancer Society stick to their guns and continue to recommend mammograms starting at age 40. (Full disclosure: I worked for the American Cancer Society).
This tug-of-war confused many women and practitioners about the right course of action. The media’s reaction, in my opinion, was to humanize the issue in their coverage. (Caveat: I’ve worked with many breast cancer survivors in my time at the American Cancer Society and I feel their story needs to be told). Watching the morning news television shows was interesting because it was as if mainstream media needed a way to fully comprehend the HUGE debate that ensued. Many broadcasts had the “Survivor’s reaction” package following the guideline issue.
With all of the messages billowing about this issue, I can’t stop thinking of how, as a public affairs professional, to take the issue and boil it down to three key talking points. So, I will leave the conundrum to you: What three talking points would you create about the debate on the breast cancer screenings? Taking it up one more level, what would your talking points be for the health care insurance discussions?