Heather Robinette has a BS in communications, and is pursuing a master's degree in health services administration. She has worked in several hospitals in the Denver metro area to help implement electronic health records and is an inpatient clinical documentation trainer at University of Colorado Hospital.
It doesn't take much to see that America is divided in its views regarding health care reform, health disparities and social determinates of health. It is a topic that deeply divides our nation's political parties. How do we bridge this divide and come together to begin the process of much needed change?
The first step is to understand the divide. This is exactly what Elizabeth Carger, senior manager, Public Policy and Social Marketing at Olson Zaltman Associates, set out to accomplish. Carger uses research to help clients understand how their target groups think and feel about a given topic at an unconscious level and provides recommendations on how to use this knowledge to shape communications.
Carger and her firm were commissioned to do a study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to understand the deeper frames of each political group. The study involved Capitol Hill staffers on both sides of the political fence. The question at hand: How do you feel about Americans having different levels of health across populations?
The study yielded major themes in the way each party viewed health disparities. Carger describes these fundamental views as frames. Let's take a look at some of the frames that were illuminated from the results of the study.
The study found that the Democratic Party viewed health care as a system, and that the system was broken. They felt that poor levels of health emerge from an interrelated system of social, cultural, economic and biological factors. This is not the fundamental frame on the Republican side. Another Democratic view highlighted by the study is of health care as a container; in which there are barriers in place that isolate certain socioeconomic groups. Democrats also had major feelings of social imbalance and inequality in their views of health care. It is this last point of imbalance that inflames the party the most.
The study revealed that Republicans view health care not as a system but as a journey. They feel that people travel on an individual journey to health; and that poor health arises from choosing bad paths, and the inability to overcome obstacles. They feel that society as a whole is on a larger health journey through time. The major difference between the two parties is on their views of balance or imbalance. Republicans understand equality to mean an undesirable lowering of some individual's health status in order to raise others to a uniform level of health.
By understanding the divide and the fundamental values of each group; we can start to build a communication strategy to bridge the divide and communicate better across all social issues.