Monday, August 23, 2010

Physicians, Health Reform, and the Battle for Voters’ Minds

You may not be aware of it, but a titanic battle is raging for control of the public mind.

This battle is a lead-up to the November elections, and some of it centers on health reform. Democrats and liberals will be defending the reform law as a moral imperative for all. Republicans and conservative will be attacking it as too costly and too intrusive for individuals.

Some of the battle is being fought in the national media. Some of it is being conducted on the campaign trail in negative attack ads. Some of it is reflected in press releases and media strategies of liberal, conservative, and “non-partisan” think tanks. And some of it is can be seen in marketing strategies and lobbying of health plans, the health industry, and physician organizations.

The 70: 30 Issues

The warriors in this battle for the voter’s minds are concentrating on the 70:30 issues – those issues which polls indicate 70% of the public favor and 30% oppose.

• the Arizona immigration law is a 70: 30 issue, so are the Mosque and gay marriage controversies. Here the issues favor Republicans.

• In health reform, health plans covering those with pre-existing illnesses or children under 26 for their parents plans, or the uninsured are 70:30 issues favoring Democrats.

• Costs of health reform, the national debt incurred, the massive bureaucracy required, negative effects on small businesses, and Medicare cuts poll 70: 30 for the Republicans.

• Among physicians, the onslaught of new millions of Medicaid and Medicare patients on already stressed practices, physicians and hospital Medicare cuts; and overall skepticism about the present health reform bill polls 70:30 against among physicians surveyed and among women who fear more limited access.

• For independent voters, those favoring the current law and favoring repeal are 70:30 issues.

Positioning and Branding

How does one capitalize on these odds? In the marketing and political worlds , one does it by positioning and branding. Positioning in these worlds is defined as the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or mission.

Branding is similar. It is creating a solid brand identity for your organization your profession, for you message, and then having your constituents, in this case the voters, identify positively with that identity.

For physicians and their organizations, positioning and branding involves creating trust that physicians want to do the right thing - cover the uninsured, help the poor and the sick, do it without bankrupting patients or the system, do it without decreasing access to care, and do it while maintaining a first-class system without appearing to be self-serving. Trust is a vulnerable and fragile thing, and physicians and their organizations seek to be trusted.

Properly done, physicians should demonstrate with concrete actions that they can be trusted, and that they have ideas for how to help the poor and under-served. In addition, they should present concrete evidence that the American system produces superior results for the functionally impaired and for those with heart disease and cancer, that reform as currently planned may negatively effect patient access and overwhelm the capacity of doctors to provide that access, and that the current health reform law imperils these efforts by slashing Medicare and private payments.

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