Collaborating for change

Yesterday we held the 11th annual National Patient Advocacy Leaders Summit (PALS) in Washington, DC. PALS, an initiative established by GSK more than 10 years ago, brings together health advocates from diverse therapeutic areas, including epilepsy, cancer, heart, lung, arthritis, bone and joint, gerontology, mental health and AIDS. It also includes advocates who work to improve health equity and access to healthcare.

As the chair of the PALS board, I am proud of the work that we do to empower patient advocates. PALS strengthens organizations to make their voices heard, through collaborative action, to build a healthy America.

This year's summit brought together more than 100 patient advocates representing a range of perspectives and health conditions. National experts, including keynote speaker Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, from the Brookings Institute, talked about healthcare reform and the implications of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for patient advocates. The speakers focused on the steps patient advocates could collectively take to improve access, lower health care costs and improve quality.  

Partnerships, networks, coalitions: no matter how you describe it, it's about collaboration.  Why is it that collaboration remains a tenant of patient advocacy? Fundamentally, working together has greater impact and influence than going it alone. Patient advocates have learned that working in silos is ineffective. In order to ensure public policy changes that are likely to improve access to high quality care, including new treatments and support services for those with chronic illnesses, patient advocacy leaders need to abandon their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving healthcare. 

As the director of a non-profit I learned this first hand. I used to try to invent independent solutions to the health and mental health problems facing my constituents, sometimes working at odds with others in the community who were looking for a similar outcome. I wasted resources, volunteer time and political capital.

Now, as a health advocate and a participant in a number of PALS events, I have learned that working with a group of leaders from different therapeutic areas and sectors to address common healthcare problems takes risk, but leads to greater rewards. Ultimately, with the collaboration of many stakeholders--including members of the healthcare community, patients, and caregivers--we can build a healthy America.