Health Advocacy in the Digital Age

Market and governmental forces, driven by rapidly advancing technology, are reshaping the healthcare industry. Healthcare access, delivery and reimbursement are being restructured as the industry moves from a fee for service “sick care” and disease management model to a pay for performance pre-emptive medicine and disease avoidance model.  Patients and healthcare providers are faced with expanding choices that may or may not equate to increased quality of care.  Electronic health records, telehealth, health information exchanges, genomic sequencing, the internet of things, nanotechnology, accountable care organizations, smart pills, patient portals, mobile health, quantified self applications, wearable sensors as well as state and federal regulations offer great potential to influence health care in a positive manner.  However, as these changes play out there are myriad possible negative consequences that should also be considered (e.g. increased cost, over/under regulation, data breaches, provider burn out, expansion of the digital underclass, improper implementation of technology solutions, reduced focus on human interaction, etc.) .

As our healthcare system changes so must our approach to health advocacy.  Healthcare is unique in that virtually all related activity springs from the doctor/patient relationship, typically characterized by private face-to-face interviews.  The traditional foundation of our healthcare system is built on a paternalistic relationship between care providers and their patients.  This interpersonal dynamic is changing as patients gain greater access to health related information via the internet as well as access to more of their own health data from online applications driven by governmental regulations.  Armed with data from WebMD or “Doctor Google” as well as details from their own records, patients are increasingly questioning their doctors’ opinions.  The democratization of data combined with an increase in healthcare consumerism is transforming the fundamental structure of our healthcare system.  Patients and providers are now sharing in the decision making process, acting as partners regarding possible interventions. Personal health advocacy is becoming more common as patients’ access to healthcare and related data rises.

Modern health advocates are not only contending with a large complicated system experiencing massive change, they must also be prepared to address issues while navigating a marketing/communications/media environment that has been fragmented by the past decade’s digital disruptions. Social networks, online communities, mobile technologies, etc. have grown exponentially since the early 2000’s, profoundly affecting the way we access and process data. These considerations led me to engage with Drury University to develop a graduate level course in health advocacy with a digital focus.

COMM 690 – Health Advocacy in the Digital Age takes a critical look at our current system, how it is changing, and what we may do to influence the process in a positive manner.  Health Advocacy: A communication approach(2016), co-authored by Dr. Marifran Mattson of Purdue University was chosen as a primary text for the course.  In the introduction Dr. Mattson tells the story of a near fatal motorcycle accident resulting in the loss of her leg.  She explains how the tragedy inspired her to engage in advocacy efforts resulting in the passage of a law ensuring Indiana residents have fair access to insurance coverage for prosthetics.  The book addresses the difficulties of developing and implementing health advocacy campaigns and offers a sound health communication advocacy model.

In keeping with Drury’s focus on personalized education students will be encouraged to think creatively regarding their studies and research.  Health advocacy is a broad field that appears to be widening as healthcare in general continues to evolve. By offering this course Drury intends to contribute to the growing body of knowledge related to health advocacy as well as spark additional research.  The confluence of health and technology has created more questions than answers.  It is the goal of this course to shine a bit of light on the problems facing patients and providers and point the way to possible resolutions.  Health Advocacy in the Digital Age is offered 100% online over eight weeks beginning March 21, 2016.  For more information, including how to enroll, please contact me directly.

  • Jeff Riggins

Author: Jeff Riggins

Father of two wonderful daughters. Health IT and Digital Media consultant.

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