Standing up to the rise of Health Sects
The more I’ve pondered the fourth prediction in Joe Public 2030 – The Rise of Health Sects – the more I think I have some ideas to share that have the potential to irritate or offend nearly everyone who reads this content. How’s that for an intro?
First, let me say I am a Christian believer and I believe in science. This alone might be controversial to some, yet I share this so anyone reading this blog post will have a sense of where I’m coming from. I also want to be sure people have sone context for my comments and they can’t simply dismiss any comments as anti-faith or anti-science.
Second, let’s look at what Joe Public 2030 says about The Rise of Health Sects:
“Challenges to and skepticism of the mainstream medical field and science itself have exploded in the past two years because of the pandemic and pollical tribalism in the U.S. Anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, and Covid deniers are just the start of an expansion of this distrust of experts, which taken to its potential end could result in multiple “health sects” – primary “schools” of medical thought that coalesce around pollical/world-views. Imagine “Mainstreamers,” who follow the establishment healthcare point of view, “Progressives” who follow minimal medical intervention combined with complementary and alternative medical solutions, and “Contrarians” who deny mainstream medical thought and create their own set of “alternative facts” on everything from vaccines to childbirth to end-of-life care, and everything in between. These sects will not only follow the medical thinking that best fits their worldview, they may in fact create their own reality through alternative research, diagnosis and treatment approaches, and models for the delivery of care itself.”
I think this may be the scariest prediction in the book. When we stop accepting facts and ignore science, we turn healthcare into nothing more than a set of baseless opinions and beliefs. Word of mouth becomes king, and social media becomes the super-spreader of fear, hatred, and conspiracy theories.
COVID-19 wasn’t the beginning of this trend, which I would argue started with a small number of anti-vaxxers led by the vocal Robert Kennedy Jr., a part of the famous Kennedy clan. Careful analysis shows that 65% of all anti-vax information in social media and on the web originated with about twelve people.
Yet, COVID-19 has poured gasoline on this effort, and the mixed messages from the CDC as we unraveled the mystery of COVID-19 validated some of the conspiracy theories and misinformation in the eyes of many. I fear that this prediction may be all-too-accurate and we are facing a future where the white coat doesn’t carry the same weight it has in the past, a future where science takes a backseat. In less than a generation, we went from trusting experts, to trusting he internet, to now trusting the “wisdom of the crowd” on social media.
I will admit that I consider myself a Progressive, according to the definitions offered in Joe Public 2030. I have tremendous empathy for Mainstreamers, and literally zero empathy for Contrarians. I believe people should scrutinize what they’re told and the source of that information, yet creating “alternative facts” hurts everyone. As we learn more and celebrate new discoveries, our available options will change and our behavior should change with them. Yet Contrarians aren’t likely to accept new discoveries any more than they are the currently accepted prevention and treatment options.
What does all of this mean for hospital and healthcare marketing communications?
The most important thing marketers must do is emphasize education. We must help people understand what to do, why to do it, and what science it’s based on. I believe we must direct and aggressively confront misinformation and call lies just that – lies. Let’s not be cute or polite or overly cloaked in our remarks – when things are untrue or inaccurate, we need to say that. We need to signal to everyone who cares about science and truth that we stand with them, and we aren’t going to pretend that “alternative facts” are true or even vaguely facts in their own right.
I think marketing can lead the charge in advocating for truth and science. It’s okay – and important – to acknowledge when an “alternative fact” is merely a theory or an opinion, and it’s important to dispel misinformation and lies for what they are. We do NOT have to accept that we live in the “post-truth” era. We may not know everything, or be able to answer every question, but we can show people we care and we love them enough to tell them the truth.
I believe it’s okay to encourage people to question and scrutinize. It’s okay to admit then we don’t know everything, whether it’s some of the unanswered questions in science or some of the mysteries of faith. I also believe that pretending lies carry the same validity as truth undermines the power of truth. Science may not always have the answer, but we must embrace science as a central part of what we believe and do.
Marketers don’t do “spin.” We must stand for “truth well told.”