Stop passing the buck.
That’s the message the Jewish Healthcare Foundation wants to get out to residents of Allegheny County and beyond.
People must begin “to own their own health,” said JHF president and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein.
“The problem,” she said, “is people think they can do anything they want all day, every day, in the decisions they make about their health — what food they eat, how much they sleep, whether they take their medicine — and someone will fix them down the road. But it’s not true. Your health is up to you.”
It is crucial that people learn to become deliberate about the health-related decisions they make for themselves, from choosing the correct physician for treatment to whether they shake someone’s hand.
Moreover, Feinstein, said, these decisions must move beyond the individual.
“As a nation, you have to own your own health and your brother’s health,” she said.
As it looks to set its long-term agenda, the JHF is focusing on six particular areas in developing marketing strategies to raise awareness and informing patients in their health-related decision-making: the HPV vaccine; nutrition for people at risk for heart disease and diabetes; becoming head of one’s own healthcare team; post-partum depression; independent living for frail seniors; and managing the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
To get the project off the ground, the JHF hosted a program on July 15, bringing together local leaders from a variety of backgrounds — including health professionals, tech experts, consumer advocates, and members of the business and foundation communities — to analyze the key components of past high-impact social health movements and then create their own strategies for consumer activation related to one of the designated six topics.
The JHF chose these particular six topics because they “have been near and dear to the Foundation for many years,” according to David Golebiewski, communications specialist at the JHF.
The goal of the initiative is to “leverage consumer engagement,” said Susan Elster, a consultant to JHF, who helped organize the July 15 program. “We want to turn patients into real consumers. The idea is to put information in the hands of consumers.”
The model for every patient’s health care, Elster explained, should evolve to become a team effort, with the patient as team leader.
“We’re shifting the role of the physician from the sage on the stage to the guide by the side.”
Elster emphasized the critical need to shift the current paradigm of patients taking a backseat on their own health.
“We have to work together,” she said. “The USA is on the bottom of peer health indicators of Western nations, with among the worst health outcomes. This is an emergency. Consumers have to be at the table.”
The July 15 program, which included about 75 participants, began with the sharing of the marketing playbooks of past successful health-related campaigns that eventually became movements, including those for Planned Parenthood, anti-smoking and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Elster said. The participants were then divided into teams to come up with a campaign for one of the six areas of focus.
“They competed with each other and came up with really creative ideas,” Elster said.
In fact, some of the campaigns created during the session may be “moved forward” by the JHF, according to Golebiewski.
“A lot of the ideas that came out of the six groups will serve as a springboard for community action,” he said, “and can be used as a guide for grants.”
The strategies will be further developed by local graduate students who will have fellowships supported by the JHF in the coming months, according to Feinstein.
“We will give them what came out of the meeting, but we want them to keep building on it,” she said, adding that she hopes to see the JHF’s initiative of health activism serve as a model for other communities.
“We’re always interested in starting a movement,” she said.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.