Healthcare Reform for Dummies:
Are You Interested?
Report From the American Medical Writers Association Annual Conference
I’ve been back from the American Medical Writers Association Annual Conference in Sacramento for a few days, and I’m still flying high. No, not from the wine tasting my friends and I did Saturday (in a chauffeured limo). But from the excitement of spending three days interacting with people who do what I do—who get it—and who are so generous with their time and advice.
I'd like to tell you that I attended lots of sessions and workshops, but that was actually impossible. Impossible because I ran two breakfast roundtables, presented three open session panels, and moderated a fourth panel. Busy? Yes. But I had a blast.
My most well-attended open session, which suggests the depth of interest in this topic, was “Healthcare Reform for Dummies.” I only had an hour to present an overview of the American healthcare system, its flaws, and the potential of the Affordable Care Act to nudge us in a better direction. Given the extensive questions after my talk, however, I could have spoken for three hours.
I'll tell you what I told my audience: If you do anything in health care, whether you write about it, sell a product in it, run a company in it, or simply interact with it as a patient, you need to understand the monumental changes under way as the system slowly—with much grumbling and pain—transforms itself from one focused on quantity to one focused on quality.
There is not a single topic I write about—from diabetes to cardiovascular interventions to electronic medical records and hospital readmissions—that doesn’t intersect in one way or another with a health policy issue.
What is your depth of knowledge about the U.S. healthcare system? Do you understand Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, our current reimbursement system (and why it is partly to blame for the high cost of health care), accountable care organizations, and patient-centered medical homes?
If not, maybe you should hear my talk! In fact, I'm now taking it on the road. So if you need a speaker for your group, company, or organization that can make the complexities of the healthcare system understandable—and won’t bore you to tears—let me know.
Freelance Emergencies
A great session at AMWA this year touched on several real-life, sticky issues that clients and freelancers experience. The one that struck me involved a client who hired a medical writer he'd met and then regretted it. The client met the writer, had a long conversation with her, and knew she had a stellar reputation. But the work she submitted was unusable. The client was appalled.
The question for the audience was whether we would like to receive honest feedback about a project that didn't meet expectations. Without exception, we all said, “Of course!” After all, how can we improve if our clients don't provide feedback?
Yet, all too often the only way we know we hit the target is if we get hired again. If someone doesn't like us, they just don't call us again. And so we make the same mistakes over and over.
To that end, I am developing an online, post-project survey that I will ask my clients to complete (don't worry—it will only take about 30 seconds). The survey will ask you to provide feedback (anonymously if you prefer) on the job I completed. It will help me identify weaknesses that I need to work on.
As for the freelancer who turned out not to be what she seemed? Well, the client will never hire her again and is still pondering what to do. To avoid a repeat, I recommend that when hiring freelancers, you ask for samples of raw copy (the first draft that a writer turned in), so you can see exactly what you'll get when the freelancer submits your project.
Otherwise, you're seeing a product that numerous people likely worked on. And, as someone who has hired freelancers before, I know from experience that a good editor can make even the most abysmal writing sound good.


I’ll be speaking to the Pacific Northwest AMWA chapter in Seattle later this month about customer relations and branding. In February, look for me at the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education annual meeting. On the scientific side, I hope to cover the American Diabetes Association, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and other major medical meetings in 2013. So, think of me if you need someone on the ground!
Until then, have a wonderful fall and a fabulous holiday season!

From the Blog
The Saga of an Infected Tooth

I spent nearly two weeks in the hospital in August with an infected tooth-turned-jaw-abscess. For my story—and what it says about our healthcare system—check out my blog.


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