Lee Lynch

What do you get when you put representatives from more than 30 of the nation’s leading patient-focused health organizations, companies and government agencies in a room, amidst a sea of sometimes-competing priorities that are specific to each of those organizations? Cacophony? Stalemate? Not at all, at least not during the National Consumers League’s (NCL) inaugural Health Advisory Council meeting. 

I had the pleasure of being a part of this meeting last week and while I have worked with nearly all of these organizations — individually and through coalitions – at one time or another, it is somewhat of a rare thing to engage with all of them during a coming together that may lead to solutions to seemingly insurmountable issues.  

NCL has a history of NOT shying away from tough issues. Whether the issue is protecting the rights of child workers, improving treatment adherence, tackling consumer fraud, or improving consumer literacy, I’ve always thought their motto should read, Bring It On.

Through NCL’s new Health Advisory Council, they are looking to leading consumer, patient, health care professional, industry and government voices to help them determine what major health-focused issues need to be better addressed and could be addressed collaboratively.  

The Health Advisory Council is very much at the beginning, but at the start, members and participants advised that the following were major issue areas that aligned with their own organizations’ interests:

1.     Medications — both Rx and OTC — were top of mind:  Adherence, management and general safe use of medications, as well as safe use of antibiotics 

2.     Coverage policies and impact on access to care and medications was also an area for collaborative opportunity 

3.     Defining and optimizing the respective roles of health care providers especially those of nurses and pharmacists —was a shared area of interest

4.     Improving both patient and HCP communication skills was also of common interest

As a communicator, I found it interesting how virtually every one of these top issue areas has communications at the center. Whichever topics NCL and its Health Advisory Council members choose to collaboratively pursue  — whether it be safe use of medications, enhancing access to care and treatment for diverse populations or people suffering from chronic conditions, fully recognizing the potential role nurses and pharmacists could play to improve value across the system, or tackling the need to improve communications between patients and HCPs in order to raise the overall level of coordinated care — communications, if successfully applied, will be a major part of the solution. 

Some of the problems discussed seem larger than life. But many of the organizations in the room have a history of trying to tackle that which seems impossible:

·       The Society for Women’s Health Research and WomenHeart have made incredible strides in overcoming sex-based differences in care, treatment, outcomes and clinical trial representation;

·       The National Community Pharmacists Association and American Pharmacists Association have made significant progress in increasing awareness of the importance of community and all pharmacists in the patient care continuum;

·       Caregiver Action Network and the National Alliance for Caregiving have made the entire health community and many individuals and families across the U.S. understand that involving and empowering family caregivers is key to patients getting the best possible care;

·       And the government agencies represented on the Council — CDCFDA’s Center for Drug Research and Evaluation and Office of Women’s Health and NHLBI — obviously have the trust of the American public and a treasure trove of knowledge about which best practices might be worth considering as part of a solution.

A number of state-based organizations — such as the North Carolina Alliance for Healthy Communities and Ohio Pharmacists Association and researchers from Duke University and the University of Minnesota — are also involved and can help ensure that any possible approach is also localized in nature. 

It’s too early to tell in which direction the NCL Health Advisory Council will head, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. More to come as the Council shares perspectives and concerns with one another and advises the NCL on what areas are worth pursuing — and solving — on behalf of America’s consumers.