Sunday, April 4, 2010

Congress Passes a Health Law: Use "Humor" and the "Internet!"

Not to be undone by the swarm of lobbyists, lawyers, strategists and entrepreneurs picking through the bloat of the health reform legislation passed by the 435 Congressional Medical Directors, the Disease Management Care Blog came across this (edited) provision spanning pages 1130-32:

"The Secretary of HHS shall provide for the planning and implementation of a national public–private partnership for a prevention and health promotion outreach and education campaign to raise public awareness of health improvement... that describes the importance of utilizing preventive services to promote wellness, reduce health disparities, and mitigate chronic disease (through a) media campaign (that) may include the use of television, radio, Internet and other commercial marketing venues... and may include the use of humor and nationally recognized role models."

"Internet?" "Humor?"

One only need to go to a CDC (for example), NCI (for example) FDA (for example) or the NHLBI (for example) web site to see just how humorless, sterile, boring and Web 1.0'ish Washington has been when it comes serving the information needs of health consumers. The DMCB suspects that that's not only due to the moribund inertia of our Federal bureaucracies. It's also due to the legions of lawyers, educators and other faceless professionals who are devoted to making sure the organs of government violate no regulation and inconvenience no constituency.

The DMCB isn't very optimistic about the campaign's chances of having any meaningful impact. The disease management industry learned long ago that cleverly produced web site/video content does little to change behavior. The discovery by members of Congress of the "Internet" and "humor," let alone passing a law about it, is testimony to the plodding inability of government to grasp the modern array of communication styles and channels that undergird consumer engagement.

What's more, they'll be going up against the marketing campaigns that have been successfully promoting lifestyle sins for decades. If the taxpayers are lucky, we may get to see some cleverly produced public service announcements that are broadcast at 2 AM or posted in some corner of a government web site.

There is one good thing though. The bill goes on to say that...

The Secretary shall ensure that the campaign implemented under paragraph (1) is subject to an independent evaluation every 2 years and shall report every 2 years to Congress on the effectiveness of such campaigns towards meeting science-based metrics.

The DMCB looks forward to seeing THAT report.

Tut tut you say? The DMCB is being a hypercritical weenie naysayer? While it denies ever being hypercritical, the DMCB does admit that it may fancy a special kinship with Newt Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation. That's why it modestly offers this amendment language for the Republicans to consider under a simple majority reconciliation process after they seize control of Congress this fall:

"The Secretary of HHS shall provide for a national competition of entities experienced in the professional production and design of consumer-based advertising campaigns that raise public awareness of health improvement... that describe the importance of utilizing preventive services to promote wellness, reduce health disparities, and mitigate chronic disease. Competitors must use television, radio, Internet, cell phone and other current and yet to be developed commercial marketing and communication channels. The Secretary shall fund no less than four finalists' campaigns and select a winner of a prize of a) $10,000,000 and b) being prominently featured on the Disease Management Care Blog, based on the effectiveness of such campaings toward meeting science-based metrics as well as the ability of the campaign to use humor by poking fun at members of Congress and the Administration.

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