The whole world was fascinated last month by Brexit: the vote in Britain to leave the European Union. Would they leave? Wouldn’t they?
But to me, the most fascinating part was what happened the next day. Once the vote had taken place and the (bare) majority had voted to leave the EU, those who had voted to leave began to learn the real truth of what they had chosen, and realized they had been duped.
Yes, duped. Because the leaders on the “leave” side immediately disclaimed the promises they made. Ooops! they said! No, we can’t really apply the billions of dollars we send each year to the EU to healthcare. We didn’t really mean that! We lied to you because we wanted you to vote our way!
How could those politicians make all those promises they never intended to keep? How did the majority of a citizenry fall for it? Why, now, do many of those citizens who voted to leave the EU wish they could take back their votes, because they have changed their minds?
Brits can blame themselves – period – for not being smarter about reality. They voted for something that wasn’t true or possible because they believed and shared what they heard and read, never vetting possibilities or veracity. They Facebook-liked, and shared, and re-tweeted, and Instagramed, and discussed in pubs, all that misinformation, disinformation, political venom, disdain and hostility – never fact-checking, never discerning the truth.
They simply passed on messages that supported their own wishes or philosophies – even when they were lies.
… Exactly like we Americans are doing today with our presidential election and its issues.
It had quite the ripple effect. Because they shared all those lies and vitriol, the world became a more dangerous and unstable place. (Just what happened to your 401K the week after Brexit? My point is made.)
So what does this have to do with health and patient advocates?
In the world of the internet, the 24/7 news cycle, and instant communication, we need to remember – always – that no one is ever required to tell the truth. They can lie all they want and there are no negative consequences – on them – of doing so. In fact, the manipulation is carefully planned. Seeding those lies has become one of the most effective methods of getting what they want. Issuing misinformation and disinformation is a strategy – and we are falling for it every day.
We must not believe and share everything we read or hear, because when we do, we ultimately do things and make choices we would never would do or make if we had the facts.
The consequences are dire.
So what are we supposed to do instead?
Here are some ways that we, as citizens with opinions ourselves, as business owners, and as advocates who others depend on to help them get the best health care and cost they can, can do to be sure that WE do not contribute to our own American Brexit-like debacle:
Supporting Our Patient-Clients
Remember Senior Death Panels? That was the conservative claim about healthcare reform in 2008. It was the suggestion that because the new healthcare reform legislation would reimburse doctors for discussing end-of-life options with their patients, that Medicare was planning to save money by not treating seniors. It was bullpooky, of course, and in the interim has been proven to be disinformation. In fact, Politifact called it the 2008 Lie of the Year.
Our clients are bombarded with messages from insurers, providers, and politicians, too, that may, or may not, be true. Sometimes doctors recommend “best” treatments – but those treatments may only be “best” for their own wallets. Clients may be told something is (or isn’t) covered by their insurance, but when the claims are ultimately made, they aren’t as promised. They may read headlines about new research that they think can help them, when the real truth is that it has only been tested on mice, or that hundreds died due to falsified clinical trial results.
As advocates, it is our responsibility to be sure our clients are making their own informed choices, based on truly objective information. We may be the suppliers of that information, and/or we are in positions to confirm or correct mis- or disinformation. Don’t let your clients make Brexit-type choices about their personal care.
Supporting Business – Our Advocacy Practices
Similarly, unless we double check information about running our practices, we can get our businesses (and often our personal reputations or financial security) into trouble.
You give your advocacy practice a better foundation when you double check even business-running facts. Not sure if you can write off an expense? Don’t take someone else’s word for it – look it up. Think potential clients will sign a contract if you lower the price? Probably not – see why. Worried that having a competitor advocate in town will cut into your business? Think again.
There are plenty of myths that circulate throughout business conversations and social media that can get your practice into trouble. Vet them yourself, and whatever you do, don’t pass them on or act on them until you know, for certain, that they are true.
There is another way we can hurt our potential to do business and our advocacy practices that stems from sharing our political beliefs and philosophies whether or not they are based on fabrications. That is, if we make public our own views on a subject in a venue where potential clients can be influenced, we run the risk of alienating those who believe differently. I wrote about this quite clearly in 2012: Advocacy, Politics and the 2012 Elections (For what it’s worth, the one person who disagreed in the comments section is no longer in business.)
In other words – your personal opinions, made public, can ring the death knell for your business.
Supporting Our Country – As American Citizens
The presidential election, in particular, has never been more vitriolic than what we have experienced for the past year. Everywhere we turn, we are assaulted by political venom — disdain and hostility for one candidate or another, for one philosophy or another. No politician seems to talk about what THEY can do. Instead they spew negatives about the person they’re running against. As if that’s helpful.
When you believe or share their boasts-as-fact, their lies and their vitriol, you are influencing votes. And you are proving their strategy works. They are the puppet masters, watching us share their disinformation and misinformation. Brexit-revisited – on this side of the pond.
3 Rules for Sharing Only Credible, Objective, and Helpful Information
Do not share information unless and until you know it to be true. When you share information without assessing its veracity – in person (like with a friend or a client), or in social media, then you are lying to the people who hear it or read it, too. It makes no difference why you share it (I had one friend tell me he shared something on Facebook because it was funny, not because he thought it was true!) – you will either influence (or tick off) anyone who likes you or respects you. Not only can you influence someone to make a Brexit-type choice, but you may damage your own reputation. Why would you take that chance?
If you are tempted to believe something you hear or read, double check to see whether or not it’s true, then refuse to share falsehoods. It’s not difficult to do; there are a handful of fact-checking websites were you can look up almost anything. Here are the ones I know of:
- Snopes (around more than 20 years, very good for double checking health or politics-related claims)
- Politifact (the Truth-o-Meter ranges from “True” to “Flip” to “Pants on Fire”)
- Factcheck.org (issues Pinocchio ratings, get it?)
- TruthorFiction.com (from the skeleton of the LochNess Monster to politics, a real mixed-bag)
- Just google it: “is it true that _____________?” and see if you can find objective advice and answers. Just be sure to avoid the sites that pretend to be objective, but instead are trying to further some political or for-profit group’s agenda. Setting up such (not so) objective-looking sites is a favorite tactic of lobbyists, PACs, pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
When you feel compelled to share your opinion – read this. While it’s not exactly the same as sharing falsehoods, dis- and mis-information. It’s just good business advice.
I hope I’ve made the case for you that sharing bogus information does damage to all parties: you, your clients, and by virtue of the fact that it can negatively affect our nation and world, your friends and loved ones too. Further, I hope I’ve convinced you of the need to verify anything you are tempted to believe or share.
Our happiness, stability, and security rest on remembering Brexit and its consequences, and taking responsibility ourselves so we can’t be accused of the same.