Applying Health 2.0 Lessons to the Constituent/Representative Relationship

Provisions in the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the economic stimulus package signed by President Obama Feb. 17, include 19.2 billion dollars in incentive funds for physicians to abandon piecemeal paper-based health records for an electronic systems that will allow for greater efficiency and more indepth data collection for the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Patients will be able to access their standardized personal medical records from the privacy of their home, adding transparency to an often confusing, complex information world.

Physicians can then utilize the expanded information, now free of the institutional jargon unique to each region and medical specialty, to both provide more personalized care on an individual basis as well as conduct collective medical research.

Just think of the benefits to cancer research, diagnosis and treatment alone. Obama certainly did – he pumped billions of dollars into the program and set timelines requiring its adoption.

The lessons learned in this ambitious ‘Health 2.0′ innovation be applied to another public concern that, despite great efforts in voter empowerment and education, still lacks focus, transparency and clarity – that of the relationship between the constituent and the elected representative.

If the most recent election was any indicator, both voters and elected officials, or those who striving to become one, are capable of using Social Media and information technology to broadcast their message.

Voters of all ages engaged in online and mobile networks to bring their voice to local and national campaigns, empowering themselves collectively through grassroots organization. Candidates distributed more information than has been made available before to voters before through not only traditional means, but YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and podcasts.

New Media became king, queen and court jester of American politics – though to quote Joe Pesci in the film Casino, “Nobody knew all the details, but it should’a been perfect…. and in the end we @#$ed it all up.”

Its not that the techie, the grassroots, the government 2.0, the me, the you and them, the whatever you want to call it communities didn’t have an entrance strategy for getting a seat at the table, or an exit strategy for that matter – its that there was no viable strategy to hold the seat at the table.

In political peacetime – in between elections – the seat at the table requires meaningful exchanges of information between constituents and elected officials. Citizens can flex their muscles collectively or individually all they want, but that may not influence the 24-year old Legislative Assistant who works 70 hours a week, makes 35k a year, and handles all healthcare, defense, or economic issues for your representative.

We must reconsider shifting focus from improving external communication strategies between voters and elected leaders and making the process internal – and using an Electronic Health Record model for discussion can be one way to do that.

Imagine you are a staffer in your member of Congress’ office. Your boss – the Congressperson/Governor/”The Football” wants you to provide a report on an economic recovery bill – and due to the legislative schedule and other factors, you have an hour to compile it. The more information you can provide, solid numbers and facts, the more legitimate your argument.

Your sources: You can sort through phone messages from eager callers muddled with others reciting commentary they heard on The O’ Reilly Factor mixed in with obscene calls from others who have nothing better to do. You can delve in to information provided by the new spat of grassroots organizations, one of the most well-known which has an equally well-known reputation for providing as much flawed information as it does thinly veiled threats in the name of anyone who provided their email and address to receive a free sticker.

Or there’s the neatly arranged, concisely presented information packet provided by the lobbyists – with the facts and language you need, because many lobbyists were the 24-year old Legislative Assistant once.

Decision made.

In order to gain real, sustainable influence, voters must provide legislators the vital information they need in a format that is equally resourceful for the decision-makers to use. As a former Hill staffer, I speak from experience.

Just like how an Electronic Health Record standardizes personalized data for individual and collective use by physicians from their home towns to the top medical research facilities in the country, constituents need a portal that allows them to identify: their top issues in importance; factors in their opinion on the issues; what sources or experiences they use to form those opinions and more.

The result would be taking the constituents already engaged in broadcasting their message, and focusing the message into a platform that would make the information actually useful to the decision-makers they are trying to reach.

In order to make this idea work, however, the process would start with interviewing Congressional and Gubernatorial staffs, and asking them how can information be most effectively communicated to them – which analytics do they need to make informed decisions. Since most people reading this post will use analytics themselves, it should come as no surprise to you that political staffs use the same.

It could be Microsoft Empowerment. Or Google Citizen.

Once the voice of the constituents is focused into a format useful to the decision-makers, the reliance on lobbyists and third party organizations for information can be reduced, and communications between the two groups will shift from external to an internal relationship – and that’s what Government 2.0 is supposed to be all about: transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.

If you are or were a Congressional or Gubernatorial staffer, would this direct, categorical data be helpful in your operations? And for the rest, would you use such a platform if it had the necessary privacy safeguards and customization options that would allow you to communicate your opinions on the matters most important to you? I hope you leave us a comment for discussion of this concept, and propose alternatives.

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Adriel Hampton

Smart listening systems are key to getting citizen information into actionable form for our representatives. As you’ve pointed out, right now it is far too easy just to accept the lobbyist info packet and roll. I’m interested in what agencies are doing now to tackle this issue with their constituents.

Justin Herman

I think the driving force behind a model like this would have to come from the constituent or third party end in the political arena, however if this was applied to a social services department, for example, then I think that kind of agency would benefit.

Of course, like EHRs, there would be plenty of infrastructure needed to build upon to make it useful.