Its a tricky topic, one that sparks off a debate fueled by passionate emotions and virulent opinions. Healthcare reform is a hot topic. Regardless of one's feelings about the topic, there is a lot to admire about how President Obama and the White House communicate and garner support for their program. In fact, it is a perfect model for how healthcare organizations can join the conversation.

Today, the White House hosted a live internet town hall event.  The President made his pitch and answered questions from constituents. While the use of internet streaming video is an admirable step, it is not what made this event so remarkable.

Several weeks before the town hall meeting, the White House invited the American public to submit questions via FaceBook and YouTube. During the live event, the President addressed some of those questions (including some from Twitter). Understandably the vast majority of the questions went unanswered, but that is where the two-way internet kicks in. What the White House has done is to get people talking directly to people. No pundits, no news anchors with an agenda, no editorial commentary and faux news channels telling people what to think... The White House is tapping into the passions and energy of the public at large. It is grass roots done internet style.

During the town hall, which was co-hosted on FaceBook, there was a live scrolling chat of people posting comments while they viewed the event. That takes courage. Most of FaceBook's users are younger and statistically many are the uninsured (or under insured) that stand to benefit from healthcare reform. This is an energetic group that is open to sharing exactly what is on their minds, even if it is counter to the President's plan. It sends a message: The White House is comfortable with ideas that run counter to their own, maybe even open to them. That means more people will participate in the conversation. Its a powerful way to grow an audience - who'd have thought, being inclusive really works.

What can Healthcare organizations learn from this event? For starters, it is a fairly transparent and portable idea. Copy it. Host your own town hall events internally and externally. Invite your employees and patients and physicians to submit video questions before the event and to participate via social sites during the show. Encourage  people ask the hard questions - "what do we for charity care?" "How are we improving our communities?" "What can we do better and what do we do really well right now?" If healthcare organizations want to have a voice in the discussion, they need to follow the lead of the White House.

Thanks to Tom Stitt for the insightful brainstorming on this topic. __

By the way - there was a nice but subtle reference to Atul Gawande's article in the New Yorker which you can find here.

If you don't know Gwande's work, check out his book Better: