21 July 2009

Bloggers are Leading the Health Care Debate

It should come as no surprise that the White House is reaching out to political bloggers to help them carry their message on health care reform - after all, Left Blogistan was instrumental in getting the President elected, and it has demonstrated an ability to mobilize activists and raise an enormous amount of money. Liberal bloggers have also written extensively on the topic, with great detail about the particulars of competing proposals. Ezra Klein, who has gone from his own blog to the American Prospect to the Washington Post, is widely regarded as the wonk di tutti wonks for the left on this issue.

Not to be outdone (though I'd argue they're getting creamed right now in social media), the right has its blog outreach ideas as well - a great example is former Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee posting at Red State on the issue. I think the problem Republicans have right now is they don't have a consensus leader, and historically their communication strategy is top-down, so they're experiencing the growing pains of adopting group discussions. They'll get there.

The thing to keep in mind, however, is that online political communities are relatively isolated - they show up well on social media tools like Technorati because they link to each other, but as I demonstrated earlier, the big political stories just don't register when compared to, say, pop culture. Talking to political bloggers will definitely have some impact, but it's really about "mobilizing the base."

Health care is a different animal - everyone has an opinion on it. Everyone is touched by it. And suddenly mainstream journalists have tucked away their criticisms of bloggers as crazy people who live in basements - now they invite them on television. For example, my friend Dr. Val Jones and her team at Get Better Health have done an outstanding job talking about health care, health policy, and reform - and they're getting noticed.

I was particularly struck by a speech Dr. Kevin Pho gave at the National Press Club. You may know Dr. Pho better as KevinMD. That's right - a doctor from Nashua whose real claim to fame is his blog is now giving speeches on health reform at the National Press Club. His speech struck a chord with me because I worked at the hospital he cited in his speech, but more importantly, he's discussing one of those non-partisan but incredibly important issues facing reform that just seems to get lost in the soundbyte-driven, substance-free rhetoric that currently dominates the political debate. GO READ IT.

I'm really thrilled that health care providers are leveraging social media to make such solid contributions to the reform debate. It's a significant step in the right direction. But it's just one step. Doctors are having influence with political types, but they're still a relatively isolated community online - doctors speak with doctors and only a small handful of others online. (There are a few exceptions, but frankly not many.)

A bigger step will be when government officials reach beyond their comfort zone of ideologically-compatible political bloggers and have meaningful conversations with the community that is, IMHO, the most influential and important online community today - moms.

This community is much, much bigger and much more diverse than the political folks or the medical community. There's really no comparison. A handful of the conversations there are ideological, but you just can't BS mom with the rhetoric we see today. The questions you hear from moms are grounded in real-life experience; they're not focus-group tested or necessarily designed to provoke. The values in this community are important - everything is about mutual respect here. You can be snarky without being uncivil. You can disagree over one issue and still have friendly discussions about something else. There just isn't the "us versus them" mentality you see in the political blogosphere, and while the doctors are trying, the conversations are just much more accessible and inviting.

There are two panels at this week's BlogHer conference that focus on health issues. I don't know if anyone will raise the health care reform proposals currently winding their way through Congress there, but I know it's been discussed in too many mom blog posts to link to here.

Another important thing I'd like to see is better integration between the medical online community and the parenting online community. There are some inklings of hope there - but that's a post for another day.


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