When a Senior Investigative Reporter for CBC News contacted me last Thursday with a simple email, “I see that you have done some writing on the area of insurance fraud in the massage industry. I’m working on a story related to this and I’m wondering if you’d have a moment to chat”, I paused to consider my next step. I’ve received some public and media relations training, and I know one should never get on the phone with an investigative reporter from national media without being prepared, or knowing the questions.
Anticipating there was more to his inquiry, I responded, “Hello G.L, and thanks for the opportunity. I’m forwarding your inquiry to the Executive Director of our RMT association in Ontario. Based on your questions, he may be the best to speak to, as he meets with a coalition of health disciplines who regularly find themselves at the table with insurers to discuss mutual concerns.
(I pressed) What are your questions? I could then discern if I’m the best person to offer an informed opinion. If your questions are within my expertise, I’d be happy to speak with you Monday.”
I then attempted to also reach the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan massage therapist association, as the reporter indicated he was stationed in Saskatchewan. She was unavailable for Friday, as was the RMTAO Executive Director, Michael Feraday. Thankfully my email to RMTAO Director of Operations Jill Haig was forwarded onto Feraday, and he did manage to respond by email Friday.
Feraday stated he was out of the office for a few days but would be happy to talk next week on return. He provided supplemental information on some initiatives the coalition had undertaken to address insurance fraud.
By this time, I was cc’d on the response by the reporter. “I am working on a story with a Montreal colleague about insurance fraud in the massage industry. This investigation was initiated after I learned that some massage businesses that offer sexual services are also offering insurance receipts. Please take a look at the story to see what I found specifically.
Since doing this story we have been looking into other massage parlours and other associations of massage practitioners. We have found that it is not uncommon that those claiming to be legitimate massage therapists would be offering sexual services and providing insurance receipts. I do note that our investigation is focussing on provinces that are not regulated. I would be very interested in learning about what sorts of fraud you are encountering and what you are doing about it.”
I was painfully reminded our profession, incredibly, does not have a national public and media relations response team. The press may call anytime, and the profession requires a team of skilled, trained, well-spoken representatives. This is particularly essential, given the media seem to be attracted to shock-and-awe sensationalist stories that would prove embarrassing and damaging to the profession if not well handled. You may wish to read PR nightmare – Massage Therapy Canada and Report on health benefits use misses the point – Massage Therapy Canada as examples of how the press has represented our profession to the public.
It was wise of me not to accept the interview. I had in fact written on improving relations between insurers and massage therapists…insurance fraud was merely a side point. I could not offer any helpful information on the reporter’s subject. Caveat: if you who receive media inquiries…ask for the subject up front and how they qualified you to speak before you consider it. If you are uninformed on the subject, and untrained in public and media relations, I suggest you pass it to the professional association or other seasoned authority.
I did, however, see the opportunity to reframe the situation and provide the reporter with something to think about…hopefully influencing his future behaviour. Here’s what I wrote back.
“G.L. I’m pleased to have put you in touch with the RMTAO’s Executive Director. As he explained, the coalition he associates with works diligently with insurers to address insurance fraud. I’m sorry I could not speak with you Friday or Saturday. My schedule was full in providing patients with care, and that of course takes priority.
Further, I am not a subject matter expert on the subject you’re investigating: individuals working in the sex trade in unregulated provinces, posing as legitimate practitioners to exploit employee benefit plans. I can speak to the subject of registered massage therapists in regulated provinces, the populations they provide care for and some of the common conditions individuals seek massage therapy for.
I notice when I use the CBC search engine for “massage” or “massage therapy” the CBC’s coverage tends largely towards sensationalist stories of mis-association with the sex trade or insurance fraud. In fact, there’s a paucity of stories – by our publicly funded national broadcaster, the CBC – representing everyday individuals who benefit from massage therapy, like this person https://secure.rmtao.com/blog/meet-paddi
In 2018, 24 registered massage therapists attended Queen’s Park, which houses Ontario’s legislative assembly, to meet with Members of Provincial Parliament, Senior Policy Analysts, and other government representatives to discuss how massage therapy can best be incorporated into health and community care – specifically pilot projects that address chronic pain, and improve patient outcomes in palliative care and homecare.
Here were some of the talking points we presented:
the Registered Massage Therapists Association of Ontario (RMTAO) represents 14,000 members, who provide care to over 1 million Ontario residents each year.
According to a 2016 Simon Fraser Institute report, 44% of Canadians have utilized massage therapy care at some point.
Citizens seek our care for neck pain, low back pain, headaches, recovery from work injuries and physical trauma. Citizens also seek MT for psychosocial outcomes including lowered anxiety, relatability, better quality of sleep, and reduced self-reported pain perception.
Nearly one in five Canadians suffers from chronic pain. (reference available) Estimates place direct health care costs for Canada at more than $6 billion per year, and productivity costs related to job loss and sick days at $37 billion per year.(reference available) Massage therapy can reduce pain and improve function in people with chronic pain, keeping them at their jobs and enjoying their normal activities for longer.
Jill Haig, RMTAO’s Director of Operations can provide you with the references and research data that accompanied our presentation that day, if you’d like to request it.
I hope, G.L., once you’re finished your present project, you will consider looking into these subjects:
- If you have a heart, lung, gastro-intestinal, kidney or brain condition, there’s publicly funded health care services available. If you have a problem with the structural and functional movement system of your body – muscles, joints, connective tissue – you pay out of pocket, or utilize capped employee benefits if you’re lucky to have them. With consideration of society’s costs related to physical pain and impairment, why is therapy not supported by our provincial health plans? Further, how can the treatment of physical pain and impairment be fully integrated into our health care system if funding remains with private insurers, or citizen’s are limited to what they can afford out of pocket?
- Insurers are the gatekeepers in approving claims for physical pain and impairment. What more can be done by insurers, health care providers, patients and regulators to improve information flow, reduce fraud and resources wasted, demand evidence-informed practice and positive patient outcomes, address decision-making and accountability measures for insurers, and improve the integration and effectiveness of health care?
You may find your research into these subjects yields important information for the public you serve, and ultimately nudge more equitable, comprehensive and functional health care delivery.
Thank you G.L. for your time and consideration. Don’t hesitate to contact me should I be of service in the future.