The 10 New Power Phrases in Healthcare and the Confusion Factor

The following is an excerpt from Navigant Healthcare’s Pulse Weekly. Click here for a complete copy of this week’s article.

These days, the jargon of healthcare is peppered with phrases intended to draw attention to a fresh approach, a new idea or, in some cases, to deflect criticism or concern from a controversy. Case in point: CMS is using “alternative payment programs” to characterize accountable care organizations and bundled payment programs—tags like “risk-based contracting” or “performance-driven payment” models might prompt provider pushback after all.

The use of powerful phrases is systemic in healthcare. “Meaningful use” is the tag for required implementation of certified electronic health record systems elevating HIT connectivity to the moral high ground. The ACA was passed as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, then shortened to the “Affordable Care Act” and then “ObamaCare” to its detractors and proponents in election campaign season. In the heat of campaign seasons, it’s also labelled “government-run healthcare” when the desired outcome is antipathy. “Managed care” still sparks distaste for many, though it sounds preferable to its antonym “unmanaged care” when pondered. And “quality of care”– is it about timely access to providers, patient satisfaction, accuracy of diagnosis or appropriateness of treatments or something else? It depends on who’s using the phrase.

You get the idea: powerful phrases are prominent in healthcare discourse. In some cases, they have multiple meanings; in others, their referent is wildly variant.

This weekend at a physician-hospital retreat, a young radiologist asked why in every educational forum he attends, everyone talks about “population health” and each describes it differently. Good point. ‘Pop health’ is among the top 10 most frequently used, misunderstood or ambiguous phrases in the new normal. In some cases, there’s less confusion about what’s meant; in others, the meaning varies depending on its user’s intent.

In a non-scientific poll of the Navigant Center for Healthcare Research and Policy Analysis team this weekend, here’s our top 10 list of powerful phrases. And with each, a confusion rating: “1” connotes widely shared consensus about its meaning (LOW Confusion), “2” mixed use with common dimensions (SOME confusion), and “3” widely different meanings and connotation across the industry (SIGNIFICANT confusion):

The healthcare industry–drug and device manufacturers, physicians, acute and post-acute providers, private insurers, investors, consultants, lenders and media—uses these phrases routinely as if meanings and connotations are widely shared. It might be worthwhile to create a lexicon wherein powerful phrases are readily understood and confusion is mitigated.

In some cases, confusion is unavoidable: allowing sectors to sort out meanings is part of a maturation process that’s natural in industries where new constructs, new ideas, and new players are prominent. That’s the case in healthcare today. The imperative, therefore, is that every organization choose its power phrases judiciously, explain them specifically and educate its partners purposely.

And where confusion is intentional, the industry should force clarity.

Paul

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Navigant Consulting, Inc. The information contained in this article is a summary and reflects current impressions based on industry data and news available at the time of publication. Any predictions and expectations noted herein are inherently uncertain and actual results may differ materially from those contained in this article. Navigant undertakes no obligation to update any of the information contained in the article.

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