Healthcare

The 2023 Healthcare Sector in Review 

Jackson Murphy helps lead various healthcare accounts in his role as Vice President of Issues Management Group’s (IMG) healthcare vertical. With nearly nine years of experience at IMG, Jackson leverages writing, media relations, and social media to help healthcare organizations achieve visibility, earn recognition, and communicate across a wide spectrum of audiences.

During our conversation, he shared major themes and trends he has observed this year in Massachusetts’ healthcare industry. Jackson delves into how clients are communicating about these issues, and how our team at IMG helps them to share their perspectives. Using his knowledge of the healthcare industry, he makes predictions for what he expects to see in 2024.

Q: What work do you do for IMG’s healthcare sector?

Murphy: I help lead our healthcare team by working alongside my colleagues to aid healthcare providers, health systems, and healthcare service organizations in telling their stories to the audiences they want to reach, both externally and internally. That involves supporting clients to talk about their work and key healthcare issues in the media, on social media, at speaking engagements, or in staff communications in ways that are easy to understand. Our clients are doing really impressive things to improve the ways their patients and communities across Massachusetts receive care. Our job is to help them share their perspectives about that, along with ways our broader healthcare system can enhance care for patients, bring down costs, and also make the healthcare experience easier for patients and families to navigate.   

Q: What are some key issues you’ve noticed this year in healthcare?

Murphy: Health equity, access to care, and the overall cost of care are three priority issues across the healthcare system in Massachusetts. They are all interconnected and are focuses for providers, insurers, and policymakers in state government. One way that healthcare organizations are addressing this is by putting resources into programs that support the social determinants of health. This includes helping people to access nutritious food, housing security, internet access, and transportation to medical appointments – which all play an important role in overall health. By supporting patients with these services, healthcare organizations seek to keep people healthy while preventing illness or chronic conditions from worsening.

Costs are another big issue. Massachusetts is renowned for its healthcare system, but for many years the total cost of care in the state trended higher than the national average. One way health systems are trying to bring down costs is by moving care out of hospitals (where care is more expensive), and into outpatient, community, or home settings wherever possible. Keeping patients out of the emergency department is a big part of this. Massachusetts has higher rates of avoidable ED visits than most of the country, so healthcare organizations are investing in programs that prevent hospitalizations – a few examples include urgent care in the home, hospital at home programs, coordination of primary care services, and greater emphasis on behavioral health.

Q: How have you advised clients in communicating about these issues?

Murphy: My biggest piece of advice for all clients is to communicate clearly and concisely while thinking about who your audience is. For example, you might talk about healthcare policies differently when interviewing with a media outlet read by patients versus one that is geared more specifically toward physicians or healthcare executives. You want your overall message to be consistent, even if you need to tailor language depending on the reader or listener. With that in mind, it’s important to avoid jargon or industry-specific terms that people may be unfamiliar with.

When healthcare organizations are talking about a new program, or interesting work they are doing, I also like to recommend that they “show” audiences why it is beneficial rather than “tell” about it. Are there concrete examples or anecdotes – either from patients or clinicians – that illustrate how these organizations are improving care? Is there data available that speaks to the positive impact of their work? All these things are effective for showing how an organization is supporting the people it serves and advancing its mission.

Q: What are you expecting in healthcare for 2024? 

Murphy: We’ll definitely see continued focus on issues connected to health equity, cost, and accessibility. One major challenge is the capacity crisis experienced in hospitals and emergency departments across the state. Hospitals are having difficulty discharging admitted patients to rehab facilities and other places to recover, largely due to workforce shortages across all aspects of our healthcare system. This is resulting in longer wait times for patients and a lack of available hospital beds for people who need acute care. How health systems respond to this issue, while continuing to recruit and retain clinicians and bring more people into the healthcare workforce, will be important in the coming year.

I also think we can expect further emphasis on primary care. This is an essential part of our healthcare system – keeping people healthy and up to date on routine care and screenings to prevent more serious health problems and hospitalizations later on. Health systems are investing in ways to better coordinate services among primary care clinicians and specialists, and improve how patients manage chronic conditions to keep people out of the hospital (which also brings down costs). Insurers are encouraging reimbursement approaches that pay providers based on how well they keep people healthy rather than each time a patient comes in for healthcare services.

Given how close our clients are to these issues, our teams at IMG will continue to monitor developments in our healthcare system next year to support their work.

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