As the holiday season gets rolling, you’ve probably noticed your calendar is quickly filling up with invites to social gatherings like Halloween parties, Thanksgiving meals, office parties and New Year’s celebrations. Some parties will be “better” than others. Food, music and conversation are the make or break elements of a party.
The dinner party ice breaker game TableTopics website says it best, “A truly fabulous dinner party is a combination of great food and great conversation.”
With this in mind, how do you think the topics of meaningful use, HIT and EMR would be received at a cocktail party? Before you say this is a ridiculous question, let me explain why I’m asking this.
HIT and healthcare in general are pretty complex subjects. I think sometimes as healthcare industry insiders we tend to forget that. We get comfortable with the ins and outs of issues and terminology and forget that not everyone knows what the heck we are talking about. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago at “my day job” when I launched into an explanation of Parkinson’s Disease treatments that included the words levodopa carbidopa, deep brain stimulators, lesions and Michael J. Fox. I thought it was a pretty simple explanation but it was met with deer-in-the headlights looks by my colleagues (who are lay people, not healthcare professionals). One of them finally came to and said, “Besides Michael J. Fox, I have no idea what you just said.”
I was busted for not taking the advice I give to the many healthcare sources I interview when they launch into similar (aka boring and technical) explanations of their areas of expertise, “If you were at a cocktail party, how would you explain this to the person next to you?” This works wonders and I usually end up with more interesting, less snooze inducing answers.
So, how WOULD you explain HIT to the lay public? And why should you think about this? Well, because if you really want HIT and all things related to be successful and change healthcare, you need to get the word out to the general public. And you have to do it in a way that makes them say, “Wow, that’s cool,” or “Oh, now I totally get it,” rather than “Thanks for explaining. I still don’t understand, but at least I don’t need any Ambien to help me fall asleep with you around.”
Now that you have a “plain English” explanation of HIT, feel free to test it out at the next party. Or maybe not. But definitely try to get the message out there. And, though I know I’m talking to a group that values social media, try spreading the word in some old school ways, too. Again, remember, the folks you want to reach may not look for information in the same way you do.
Consider traditional methods and media like newspapers, television and radio (all of which now incorporate online and social media into their media stream).
Here are five examples of HIT and EMR making its way into the lay media:
Now, you may think some of these stories are right on the money and others have negative takes on HIT. Regardless, HIT is being presented to the public via these media channels. And you can get your message out there, too.
Try raising public awareness about the importance of and need for HIT in some of these ways:
Letters to the Editor
Letters to the editor are a great way to increase the visibility of HIT and for professionals to share their thoughts with a large audience.
Here are some tips for getting your opinions into print:
- Choose a publication to which you’d like to send your letter. Newspapers and magazines welcome reader comments, especially if they are related to one of the publication’s recent articles.
- Follow the submission guidelines. Most newspapers and magazines have instructions for submitting letters on their websites or their opinion pages. Guidelines often include e-mail or postal address, word limit, and editor’s name. Sign your name along with your credentials and include contact information so the editor can follow-up with you if he or she has questions.
- Focus your message. It’s natural to want cover all the ins and outs of HIT at once. But narrowing your topic makes your letter clearer and increases the chances it will be printed. As I suggested before, the best way to stay focused is to pretend you’re at a party and have 30 seconds to explain your idea to a stranger.
- If you disagree or are unhappy with an article, express your opinion in a reasonable and professional manner. Identify the parts of the article you think need clarification and present data to back up your opinion. Personal attacks, name calling, and outrageous demands detract from your credibility and message.
- Have someone read your letter and give you feedback before you send it. Are they able to understand your message? If not, revise your letter until your point is clear. Last but not least, run spell check and check your grammar before sending.
Letting media outlets such as TV and radio stations, newspapers, and magazines know about HIT is an excellent way to showcase it. Here are some pointers to follow when writing news releases:
- Choose a topic. Ask yourself, “What about HIT is new, unique or important?” Remember that the broader appeal a subject has, the more likely it is that media outlets will cover it.
- Consider the timing. Why would this interest the public right now? If your topic relates to a specific season or public awareness campaign, it is more likely to be covered by the media.
- Include the Five W’s. Journalists evaluate a story’s potential based in part on what they call the Five W’s — who, what, where, when and why. Be sure to let them know who is involved, what they are doing, where it is taking place, the date and time of the event, and why they are doing it.
- Look professional. News releases follow a specific format, and there are many examples that can be found online. Use one of these as a template when you write your news release. If you want to pitch news from your employer, check with your company’s marketing department before sending your release to the media.
Presentations are one way to highlight HIT and help others at the same time.
- Keep it simple. Laypeople aren’t familiar with healthcare or HIT jargon so keep complex explanations to a minimum and focus on practical information.
- Decide on your medium. You may want to use presentation software, video clips or handouts during your presentation. Whatever you choose, be sure to check with your host to see if it provides tools such as a computer or DVD player or if you need to bring your own.
- Find a space. There are many venues out there for public speaking. Your local library or community center may have rooms available for presentations.
I hope you take up the challenge to raise public awareness about HIT. Let us know if you have success! ♦
Jennifer Thew, RN, MSJ
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