A friend of mine says about her child growing up, “the days go slow, but the years fly by.” Some days, it feels like the pace of change in health care is like that, too. Slow day by day, but you look up a year or two later and the world looks very different.

That accelerating pace will continue for everyone in the years ahead, and it is all running toward one big question: what value do you bring for the overall health care system and the individual patient?

Helping clients answer that question is why I came here to WCG, far away from the Washington, D.C. base where I’ve spent much of my PR career, but close to an epicenter of old and new innovators in health space (device and diagnostics, biotech, mobile/digital) who want to communicate well to health policy influencers.

Legislators and Consumers Care About Value

Doing that requires an understanding that legislators, regulators and consumers are paying closer attention to the intersection of cost and value. Notice, for example, the attention the Department of Health and Human Services got last week when it announced that 50 percent of Medicare payments would be based on quality measures. Two days later, a coalition led by providers and payers announced it would commit to putting 75 percent of their business in “value based” arrangements by 2018.

Just how we get to this quality-based nirvana is best answered by experts, people like my former boss, ex-CMS and FDA chief Mark McClellan, a member of the above coalition who has spent more than two decades researching and advocating for a better quality health care system.

But it would be foolish to rely on the uncertainty about how we get there to delay engaging with the public, including policymakers and regulators, about one’s own value and quality proposition. I think this is especially true for two of the most interesting parts of the health care sector today: tech/digital health and the accountable care organization (ACO) movement.

Care About Who Influences Payers, Regulators and Consumers

I see many health tech innovators pay much attention to their profile with Silicon Valley audiences, but what about people who influence payers (public and private) and regulators? Commercial and reputational success will depend much more on the latter, and helping clients build that kind of engagement is what we ought to focus on.

ACOs, meanwhile, face old questions about whether they are just old HMOs in disguise (Economist Austin Frakt does a good job here detailing a “no”) but new opportunities to communicate to patients how a combination of health care provider and health insurer could improve care and reasonably control costs. I believe they will achieve those aims, but the ACOs need to take advantage of technology to engage with patients, consumers and other stakeholders. Failure risks letting someone else define them as just another excuse to cut care.

Products and services that may be perceived by some as expensive can still successfully answer the value question. They will need to demonstrate the additional benefits of the higher price in a thorough and positive way. What leaders in these businesses need to avoid is an attitude that policymakers and consumers won’t care about the cost issue.

Other sectors in the U.S. economy have had to answer these value questions for a long time. Can you imagine someone in the energy or transportation sectors saying, “it doesn’t matter,” when asked whether we get what we pay for? But until recently that question has not been at the forefront in health care. Now it is, and it’s being asked by regulators, legislators, chief financial officers at companies and even by consumers.  As communicators, it’s our job to help health care innovators answer it so they can keep doing their work helping all of us get and stay healthy.

Gary Karr
Gary Karr