Monday, February 21, 2011

Wendell Potter's "Deadly Spin"

We recently discussed how Wendell Potter, author of Deadly Spin, has provided a chilling picture of health care corporate disinformation campaigns and the tactics used therein.  I finally had a chance to read the whole book, which should be read by anyone interested in concentration and abuse of power in health care.

Let me summarize some of its main points.

The Unholy History of Public Relations

Mr Potter set "PR" in its historical context, and noted parallels among the modern deceptions he recounts and how the father of PR white-washed tobacco companies, and with the propaganda and disinformation used by 20th century totalitarian states to cement their rule.

How Deceptive PR Changed the Course of Health Care

As noted earlier, Mr Potter recounted how deceptive PR campaigns subverted the health care reform plans of US President Bill Clinton, reduced the impact of Michael Moore's movie, "Sicko," and helped to remodel the recent health care reform bill to reduce its threat to commercial health insurers.  He further noted how PR distracted public attention from the growing faults of a health care system based on commercial health insurance, and how practical and legal safeguards against abuses by insurance companies were eroded. 

Making More by Providing Less Care

Mr Potter catalogued the tactics insurance companies use to reduce care and increase revenue, such as rescision, elimination of coverage for groups with high costs, the use of high deductibles disguised as "consumer choice," etc.

The Tactics of Stealth Health Policy Advocacy

As noted in our earlier post, Mr Potter described "charm offensives;" the deliberate creation of distractions, including the planting of memes for short-term goals that went on to have long-term adverse effects; fear mongering; the use of front groups, including "astroturf," (faux disease advocacy and/or grass roots organizations), public policy advocacy groups, and tame (and conflicted) scientific/professional groups; and intelligence gathering.  He provided some practical advice for detecting such tactics. For example, be very suspicious of policy advocacy by groups with no apparent address or an address identical to that of a PR firm, or with anonymous leaders and/or anonymous financial backing.

Why Good People Do Bad Things

Mr Potter provides some insight into the rationalization and compartmentalization that allow apparently upstanding people to peddle deceptive PR.

Memes Metastasizing

Mr Potter noted how memes are created to fit short term goals.  My observation is that these memes may then acquire lives of their own that then may have long term adverse effects.  Think about "the best health care system in the world," fears of "government bureaucrats," but not corporate bureaucrats running health care, to what the label "junk science" may be applied, and where fears of the "nanny state" came from.


Mr Potter seems to be the only known example of a defector from the ranks of the leadership of modern corporate health care prompted by conscience.  Anyone who finds this blog useful should find his book at least equally useful.  (To those from outside the US:  although most of Mr Potter's experience was with the US system, the role of PR in society here is likely not that different from its role in other developed countries.)

I hope to return to some of the issues he raises in more detail from time to time.

Bravo, Wendell Potter, for returning from the "dark side."

 Note that I have added Mr Potter's blog to our blog-roll.


InformaticsMD said...

Example of a deceptive corporate "meme" in the health IT domain:

Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman [a non-clinician businessman and an advisor to the Obama campaign on HIT] ... compares the skeptics of health info tech to doctors who questioned the introduction of the stethoscope in the 19th century: "There have been Luddites in every industry."

Afraid said...

Overall I commend Potter for coming clean. I believe that the problematic practices he describes are done by PR in many hospitals as well as insurance, perhaps moreso.

I think there is more of an expectation that university related health centers should be more honest. However I think they may be more manipulative if you consider they can swing "research results" that are supposedly scientific.

The world needs more Potters although I believe that all the exit agreements penned post-Potter will silence all but the self-destructive.

Isn't it odd that no criminal or civil suits have been brought based on Potter's revelations?

Nothing to see here, move on, move on ...