Some Trends I’ve Noticed When Trying to Educate ALL people living in the United States to help save them time and money in healthcare:

  1. Rural Americans experience different access, physician expertise, and cost issues.
  2. African-Americans experience being treated differently when receiving medical attention.
  3. Most people don’t understand how their health insurance works, but those who get their own insurance with individual and family plans are expected to.
  4. Immigrants and legal residents don’t know where to start in healthcare.
  5. Religion plays an important role in health insurance coverage.
  6. Men generally put off going to the doctor.
  7. Women’s health is generally poorly understood.
  8. People can have distinctly different opinions of Medicare vs. Medicaid that are both government assistance programs paid for by tax dollars, but help different populations of people.
  9. Patients have very strong opinions along a broad spectrum on even what’s considered standard medical care, such as what tests are included in a full physical exam, antibiotic use, vaccinations, diet and exercise, etc.
  10. Language barriers make a big difference in understanding medical needs between doctors and patients.
  11. I could literally go on forever with this list.

 

The Politics Began in Social Media Hashtags:

So I thought it was possible to discuss this healthcare information to help a wide variety of people and stay out of the political fray. Can’t you just say “hey, we’re just trying to help people access medical care when they are sick” and have it be apolitical?

You think of hospital systems doing it all the time by talking about things like heart disease or diabetes or cancer. These are diseases that impact most of us, a wide variety of us. I don’t normally look at a hospital and think “yep, that’s a pretty leftist healthcare system helping people with heart disease” or “that hospital is obviously voting Republican this year and is great at cancer care”. No, I normally think of the science and the variety of approaches healthcare takes to care for the population around it. Isn’t that what’s really important?

In St. Louis, segregation is a reality. It’s embedded in the infrastructure of the city and county itself. It doesn’t have to be actively enforced to exist and it can’t be written off as a purely economic difference. But to make as bland of a statement as I possibly could, those of different races experience St. Louis differently. It would be ignorant to think that healthcare is a magical place that is somehow immune to it.

So I asked a social media consultant to try to specifically engage these different communities in St. Louis on social media and see if we get different questions, different concerns, different experiences that we could address to help all people get better access to medical care.

And when she went to reach out to local African-Americans or the black community, she added to every post…

#BLM

And there was an initial reaction from a branding consultant that made me weary to use it. Black Lives Matter is a political statement, was what was said. You don’t want to tie your brand to a political movement that is controversial, was what was said. And as an outsider, my initial thought was that this was a reasonable concern. Would posting Black Lives Matter impact our ability to reach other populations that are upset by this notion? I personally believe that black lives matter, but as a business, what do we lose by becoming political? But then the social media consultant did something interesting.

She said – if you want me to take out all politically-affiliated groups or notions, it’s going to be hard for me to share your content on immigration healthcare. And I’m going to have to get rid of the AARP reports on aging adults. This mention of a Freelancer’s Union on health insurance could be a doozie too.

As we went down the list of politically-affiliated healthcare advocacy groups and organizations and businesses that we include in our content because they are helping people get better healthcare, I realized that what I thought of as “politically neutral” groups, were actually groups targeted at the population of people I know most in my circles of friends and family. The groups seemed accepted and safe because they were familiar. And I grew ashamed of what I was realizing was a racial and cultural bias that I had defined as “politically neutral”.

In order to be effective in healthcare, you cannot pretend that everyone is the same and ignore social factors that impact the ability to take care of your health. In order to address these social factors, you’re going to get political because those people you are helping are political.

 

What if the New Healthcare Brand is Political Inclusivity Instead of Political Ignorance?

As just a human being in my own skin, I’ve always hated hospital and healthcare branding. It’s just so boring and robotic in my humble and unimportant opinion. When a hospital starts a Facebook page I just roll my eyes because I would never in a million years be friends with a hospital system that just sends me scary health information and brags about how awesome it is all the time. But it’s the popular thing to do – to have a Facebook page – so healthcare companies do it. This is what we call a “neutral” healthcare brand with stock images of very nicely dressed doctors and nurses and beautifully sick patients smiling at each other all the time. They are slender models of blonde whites, either male or female, and different light-skinned races, without any religious affiliations and standard families, all of them with very good teeth, to appear inclusive.

And because it’s so common, we think of this as “normal and neutral”, when in reality it ignores the majority of people who exist. It’s incredibly exclusive.

So what if we started to recognize the humanity of our healthcare system instead? Could we better engage the people we’re trying to help? What if I could see that Black Lives Matter is incredibly important to many in the black community and could be embraced by healthcare to improve their health? Why wouldn’t I be grateful and support those efforts? #BLM. What if I could see that religious organizations in rural America are making a dent in helping low-income families, especially for single mothers and fathers, get access to medical care; wouldn’t I want to talk about them specifically? (there’s no hashtag for that yet). What if Latinos have also formed an online effort to tackle problems that Latinos face and celebrate their heritage and I wanted to talk with them about their healthcare experiences? Why wouldn’t I engage with the group they have formed themselves? #latism.

What if we, as healthcare brands, recognized the real identities of people, that can be very political in our diverse country, and addressed them? What if we addressed the organizations supporting those identities because they help them get the healthcare they need?

For those healthcare companies brave enough to try, we’ll have to find out for ourselves if political inclusivity achieves better outcomes than political ignorance.