While Washington D.C. and healthcare leaders are debating how to solve the opioid epidemic, few stakeholders seem to be talking in depth about how we talk about opioid addiction. As a result, we continue to face the critical question of how to reach those who matter most – patients.
We are dealing with what Keith Humphreys, Stanford University Professor of Psychiatry and Washington Post Wonkblog author, calls the dual problems of “stock” and “flow.” There are currently two opioid battles unfolding, Humphreys says – one for the current “stock” of patients who are already addicted, whether via an initial pain medication prescription or another avenue of drug use, and the “flow” of potential new users who require preventative measures. Humphreys notes that mistakenly, these two battles are often discussed as though they are in conflict, but both groups of patients need to be looked at in context of their own unique needs and together to find holistic, long-term resolutions.
To do that, both opioid battles should be discussed within the context of patient-centric communications, finding ways to communicate with patients – whether they are addicted or are at risk of becoming addicted – where they are. There is an opportunity for all stakeholders involved in this epidemic to consider themselves a communicator.
We are well past the point of why this crisis is happening. Developing patient-centric communications strategies can help determine how each stakeholder – whether a hospital, medical association or law enforcement, local or state government agency – can connect directly with patients to help solve this crisis for the long-term. Unfortunately, in many instances, this patient-centered approach is not happening.
Alongside the ongoing policy and medical solutions, we can work across stakeholder groups to determine where the communications breakdowns occur, how patients get their information, what content is relevant to them and what messages resonate to help treat and prevent addiction. We need to think continuously about the impact on the patients, who is talking to them and what is being said.
To better communicate with patients suffering from addiction and those who are at risk, we need to consider many factors, including how:
- The communication breakdown between prescription and addiction occurs and what messages prevent opioid use from occurring in the first place
- Pain and addiction are discussed and/or stigmatized and how that conversation contributes to lack of addiction awareness or motive to seek treatment
- Stakeholders from medicine, psychology, sociology, law enforcement and others can communicate with each other to find solutions and reach patients
- To use digital analytics and social media tools to reach patients at the right time in the right way
- Caregivers, family members and friends learn about the signs of drug abuse and what action to take
This issue is deep and vast. Focusing on how we reach all types of patients where they are can help allow for interventions and create effective addiction prevention strategies. Burson-Marsteller is committed to working with clients and convening stakeholders to identify these communications challenges and develop creative solutions to help bridge the gaps. All stakeholders are communicators in the fight against this crisis and can play a role in reaching patients where they are.
By Elizabeth Woodworth, Manager, Healthcare, Burson-Marsteller.