Selling Sickness 2013


This week the British Medical Journal published our editorial calling for a new social health movement to challenge the “Selling of Sickness.”

The time has come for a movement using a partnership model that combines the diverse but complementary perspectives and ideas of healthcare professionals, patient representatives, and consumer advocates. It’s no longer enough just to work in our individual silos. A partnership model based on mutual respect and collaboration can enable questions and concerns to be raised in different voices for different audiences.  New strategies emerge when we come together collectively.

Selling Sickness 2013 was designed using the partnership model starting with the co-organizers.  Leonore and I (KW) came from widely different backgrounds, careers, and perspectives.  At first out of necessity (no one else was available) but soon out of choice (the complementarity was phenomenally creative) we learned to listen to each other while being willing “try on” the other person’s ideas without judgement. Together we hashed things out, compromised, took turns leading and following and our planning kept getting better.

Next we built support for the conference by recruiting a balanced range of co-sponsors that represented healthcare professionals, consumer organizations, healthcare journalists, and reformers.  Each of these constituencies has a stake in the selling of sickness conversation and we wanted an equal distribution. Even our call-to-action statement was developed collectively by a diverse group from around the world representing the various stakeholders.

The partnership model seems to be gaining momentum.  A perfect example is “Choosing Wisely,” designed by the American Board of Internal Medicine together with Consumer Reports.  Last week, I attended a social media workshop in Washington that Consumer Reports’ Choosing Wisely team put together.  The groups at the workshop included ABIM, AARP, National Partnership for Women and Families, academics, consumers, as well as two health benefits business groups.  Though everyone represented their individual organizations, we came together collectively to discuss social media strategies to help tell the Choosing Wisely story to a bigger audience. There were moments of synergy that I have come to recognize as true partnership. More are needed.

Much lip service is currently given to the idea of “partnering” between industry and government, academia and industry, and consumers and industry. But these partnerships often lack true collaboration and mutual respect because one agenda dominates. We want to model collaboration where no one agenda dominates – rather, an agenda emerges from the partnership itself. Maybe it’s a paradigm shift in healthcare reform. At the very least it’s a breath of honest fresh air.

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