Leaders In Public Health & Health Care Urged To Move Beyond Silos

Oct 25, 2012, 12:44 PM

By B. Japsen

Public health and health care advocates and leaders need to move beyond their “silos” as patients and consumers change how they get and digest information, attendees at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) 40th anniversary “Connections” Conference were told Thursday.

Jay Walker, chairman and chief executive of the TEDMED global community, along with the audience of conference attendees, admitted to challenges for public health experts to get their message out as well as the inability to work effectively with those in health care that provide medical care services.

“We need to learn from each other,” Walker said. “We need to become more generalists. If we don’t figure out how to bring organizations together in new ways, we are going to miss the boat.”

Consumers are already turning away from traditional communication like newspapers and the Rolodex to communicate and reach the public toward Facebook and digital forms of social media. These changes are fueling a trend of patients and consumers “self-treating and self-medicating” leaving leaders in public health and health care with the challenge of coordinating their efforts to make sure consumers understand what they get is accurate and effective.

“We are in silos,” said Shelley Hearne, managing director of Pew Health Group, who was picked from the audience to participate on an impromptu panel during Walker’s talk on “Powerful Connections . . Hiding In Plain Sight.”

“Public health has not interfaced with health care,” Hearne said. “We need to look at how the tail wags the dog.”

In the future, public health and health care interests should work to establish closer ties and relationships to their communities. One way to do this is to improve the information provided to the community so they understand it, Walker’s panelists said.

 “Anything we can do to increase public health literacy is wonderful,” said Susan Curry, dean of theUniversity of Iowa College of Public Health.

TEDMED’s Walker said patients and consumers are already driving a revolution driven by technology that is “engaging public health in a very different way.”

“Patients are changing the nature of the game,” Walker said. “We are living in an age of entirely new connections. We have an enormous foundation.”

Bruce Japsen is an independent health care journalist attending the two-day RWJF event as journalist in residence. He writes a health care business and policy blog for Forbes at blogs.forbes.com/brucejapsen. He also contributes health care stories to the New York Times, Chicago Medicine magazine and teaches writing at Loyola University Chicago. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.