Pot and Obamacare beat out real conversations about health in Colorado

The annual Colorado Health Symposium kicked off earlier today. The Symposium has become the main gathering of people in the state and region working on a wide range of health issues (and it’s likely a big event on the national scene). Colorado Health Foundation staff organizing the event do a great job using YouTube, the web, Twitter and Facebook to engage people during the event. The content is great. Follow along on Twitter at #14CHS.

The theme of this year’s Colorado Health Symposium is Health Transformed: The Power of Engagement. Today’s discussions about how to engage people in health conversations talked about meeting people where they are, communicating on their terms and how to use language that fits the community you’re trying to reach.

That’s a great place to focus attention. Advocates that don’t engage their audience aren’t doing their job.

But it got me to thinking about how people are talking about health in Colorado now (and how much they’re talking about it). What ARE people talking about when they talk about health in Colorado? What else are they talking about? What can we learn about the state of public engagement on health by the looking at recent online conversations?

The chart below uses Topsy to analyze the use of three sets of keywords on Twitter in the past month: (1) tweets that have the words “health” and “Colorado” in them; (2) tweets that have the words “healthcare” and “Colorado” in them; and (3) tweets that have the words “pot” and “Colorado” in them.

health-pot-conversation-30day-900
The “colorado health” conversation is dwarfed by mentions of pot. Talk of health in the state is dominated by debates over Obamacare.

None of these are huge conversations over the past month and, clearly, the conversation about each of the topics represented by these terms is bigger than the numbers in this chart. We’re only looking for these specific words, after all. And we’re only looking at Twitter in the past month. This is just one snapshot, not an extensive analysis. Hop on Topsy to play with these or other terms.

But the chart is telling. The biggest “spike” in Colorado health conversation happened on July 20th as the result of a Denver Post story about billing issues with healthcare plans sold on the Colorado exchange. This story has little to do with health but is instead tied to the continual political debate over Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that politically charged conversations about health insurance laws displace actual health conversation.

It bears further analysis but what’s potentially concerning is that health conversation – and the ability of the health community to engage real people about health issues online – is being confused and displaced by the healthcare debate. A few thoughts on what this might mean:

  • Online channels certainly aren’t the only (and maybe not the best) place to engage people on health issues. Many people in key audiences may not be online, or at least not on Twitter, though I’m guessing many are on Facebook and other networks. The health conversation, like many others, needs many points of contact.
  • Real human health stories need more (and stronger) online voices to compete with the healthcare policy debate. Access to healthcare services is a huge part of good health but politicizing it is polarizing the discussion and making it hard to have real conversations about other aspects of good health (nutrition, food choices/prices/access, school lunches, active children and more).
  • More analysis of the health conversation wouldn’t hurt. How are real people talking about health (and healthcare) in Colorado? And the nation? There’s a wealth of data out there on the social networks waiting to be scooped up.

And what about the pot conversation in Colorado? Well, people use the word “pot” in connection with Colorado much more often than they do health or healthcare. Welcome to Colorado! We threw pot into this chart mostly for comparison’s sake. Seems that health and healthcare should be bigger conversations than pot. Something to aspire to (and maybe learn from) going forward.

As advocates, if we want to engage people online we need to know what they’re talking about and how they’re talking about it. Otherwise, we may be talking to ourselves.

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