Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Tell-Tale Tale of Tales that are Telling

Where Most of Us Got our Health Care Info

I'll be watching this one with great interest.

Sarah Kliff, writing for Newsweek, promises an in-depth rview of what I hope will be the statistics and examples of clear communication that helped pass major health-related reforms through government in the past century. I'm having to read some into this, because in the teaser posted today at Newsweek, she's a bit hazy on the details.
Clear communication is going to be crucial as the government moves health-care reform from policy to programs. I’ll have a story that goes in depth on this tomorrow, but the bottom line is this: every major American health-care reform, from Medicare up through SCHIP, has required incredibly strong public outreach programs to educate and enroll Americans—essentially, answer the "how does this affect me" question. Skip that, and Americans simply don’t bother signing up.
Kliff concedes that the vast majority of news outlets did just as poor a job as the White House in explaining the latest nuances of health care reform. This lack of information, combined with disinformation, political posturing and outright lies from health care opponents -- combined with a deer in the headlights reaction from proponents who looked to the media for help and just got blow-by-blow coverage of the rancor, not clear communication on what health care means to the average American -- has fomented the ugliness that's going on right now, with the fringe on the right as gleeful members of the peanut gallery watching the train plow into the station in real time. (The media, of course, report on the fringe folks cheering the accident, not looking at those who are helping the wounded or who were working on both sides of the tracks to make sure the wreck didn't kill more people.)

What I'm hoping comes out of Kliff's treatment is that the vast majority of those who opposed health care reform in its current iteration did not oppose out of fear, but because they simply weren't finding enough information on what the reforms were going to mean to them. Kliff hints at a study of Google search trends, which ought to go far beyond any Gallup poll -- or any type of poll, for that matter -- in examining what people were thinking up to the vote and what they're hoping to find out now. Of course, Google search trends are a one-way street; we cannot tell from search results alone what information people found informative. Maybe the search trends can be combined with analytic data to show not only what people searched for, but what they read as they searched. Polls show that for at least some people, adequate information and clear communication was enough to sway them onthe debate. I am one of those people, and, at this point, I have to remain in the "optimistic but confused" camp, hoping, in fact, for more reforms to come.

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