Advocacy victory – Public health care communicators

Recently I got an email from the National Public Health Information Coalition asking me to take their survey about creating a certification process for health care communicators.  I didn’t like their survey so I sent the following email:
I just took your survey about public health communicators and I think you totally overlooked the role of patient advocates. There are many reasons people in recovery might know more about health care than professionals. Also, one of the biggest risks in health care is iatrogenic harm, and patient advocates prevent that. Also, patient advocates are often much better at promoting prevention messages than professionals.
I would not reccommend any degree requirements for a certification process, and I would have tiered fees depending on whether or not someone is a patient advocate. Also, this survey really ought to have a comments box so I didn’t have to track you down to send a separate email.
I got back a fairly dismissive response, at first, just “Thanks for your input.”

So I sent them back a follow up questions, “Does your organization have any plans to include patient advocates or any awareness of the need to do so?” Keep in mind that patient advocates is a term used by other medical reformers, even though the term patient is offensive to many psychiatric survivors. We might start working towards a compromise term like (ex)-patients.

They got back to me with another slightly dismissive response:

I’ll bring it up with the committee but as of now the job analysis we have conducted would require an individual to demonstrate competencies on a broad range of public health skillsets to get certified. These include media skills, (responding to media inquiries, spokesperson and publicity), health risk communication in all of its facets (environmental, Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, reputation management), health marketing, communications research, social media, public health law and ethics, cross cultural communication, etc. My understanding is that patient advocates primarily deal with health care issues. While there may some overlap in the patient education area do you think the typical patient advocate would be well versed in all of the above? Also this is intended to be a certification for public health communicators, not those who specialize in health care. Health care communicators already are eligible to earn accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators, but there is no certification program targeted specifically to public health communicators, as of yet. So honestly, we do need to narrow the criteria of who is eligible to apply to try to earn this credential. Perhaps an umbrella organization (e.g. Patient Advocate Foundation) might be willing to develop a certification program which could assess the abilities of those who do that particular job.

But then something must have happened in the meeting because I got the following email back a couple of hours later:

Good news! I have just completed a conference call with our Credentialing Committee and they will recommend to the NPHIC Board of Directors that eligibility to apply for a Certified Communicator in Public Health (CPHP) credential (should the program be developed) be expanded beyond our original criteria. The proposal is to make it clear that the credential is primarily targeted at communicators in public health or voluntary health agencies—or who have had past experience in such agencies—but anyone who feels that they can successfully complete the assessment process may apply. We would provide a checklist to help potential candidates evaluate whether they are likely to be successful, and thus, whether it makes sense for them to pay the application fee. PLEASE NOTE: this will be a Committee recommendation to the NPHIC Executive Board which will make a final decision based on results of the survey you were kind enough to complete.

So of course I tried to send a thank you to make sure everything came out OK.

This is very good news. I really appreciate the update. I read through your list of criteria and I think I would know how to do most of that stuff, and also, many of the advocate friends as well. To become a good advocate requires social media and risk assessment and law and policy work, so many of us have learned this as we’ve experienced iatrogenic harm and worked to prevent it for other people.

And of course their response:

Excellent! We just wanted to make sure that we set our candidates up for success; not just take their money. You input was VERY important. Watch the NPHIC website for updates (we needed to slow down until we could evaluate our survey results.) Happy holidays!

So I consider this a very nice advocacy victory. It was based on some lessons I learned at the Partnership with Patients Conference hosted by Regina Holliday.

Wordworks Blog Author: Corinna West

Corinna West is the founder and creative director of Wellness Wordworks, and is an Olympic Team Member and has a Masters Degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Her Instant Peer Support might be the first in the mental health sector to remove the need for government and charity funding by creating a profitable interaction involving only our business and our direct customers.

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