“Google it” is not the best answer to give when a patient asks you about healthcare reform.

But when you do Google “healthcare reform,” well, of course, you get lots of answers. And none of them that useful as an immediate aid to explaining health care reform to your patient.

A “one liner” health care reform definition here:  focuses on health insurance: “The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) increases the quality, accessibility, and affordability of health insurance.” But you’ll have to tell your patient more than that.

Before you do, pause and consider: A large percentage of our population will not be immediately affected by health care reform. Because a major portion of The Affordable Care Act is designed primarily for Americans who don’t have health insurance and seek health care only when acutely ill. You know your own patient panel the best and whether or not they are primary stakeholders for The Affordable Care Act.

What else?

Here are two other points that might help.

First, consider using “Triple Aim” as a concept and living definition for health care reform .

Created by Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) President Emeritus and Senior Fellow Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP, The Triple Aim Initiative is a three part strategy to optimize performance of the American health system. It goes like this: 1) improve the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction); 2) improve the health of populations; 3) reduce the per capita cost of health care. And that, on a macro scale, is really what health care reform is all about.

Second – provide patients with a time frame that might help them put their arms around the scope and scale of health care reform in America: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – which drives health care reform across the nation – was signed in 2010 and will take until 2022 before all of its provisions are rolled out. A 12-year passage.

The Journey: Part of explaining health care reform

Remember the oldest ever doctor joke? “This will hurt you more than me!”

Not this time. Health care reform requires a long (multi-year, as I just pointed out) and difficult journey. And it’s a much more difficult journey for providers than patients. It’s OK to tell your patients that health care reform is making the practice of medicine much more challenging these days.

Patients will “get” what it means when you share with them that part of health care reform requires more precise clinical documentation by your staff; extra, ongoing training on new EHR and practice management software systems; and getting used to new clinical workflows that improve outcomes and reduce costs. Patients should “get” one more thing… their role in health care reform. Their journey to benefit from health care reform.

Increased patient responsibility is also part of explaining health care reform

As you dialog with patients about health care reform, you’ll do each of them a favor if you reinforce the idea of active healthcare. I like the term because it implies proactive patient behavior. Passive healthcare is reactionary; active healthcare is healthcare in motion – always seeking “better.” Active healthcare requires sustained patient participation in all matters affecting their physical and mental well-being.

Finally, tailor and scale your explanation. Keep in mind the level of sophistication each of your patients has as you explain elements of health care reform. What would you want to know about health care reform if you were the patient? And what one patient wants to know could differ greatly from what other patients may want to know, or even have the capacity to understand.

The patient encounter is health care reform

These days, patients participate in health care reform every time they see you; patients originate the mountains of structured and unstructured protected health information (PHI) now forming a mega foundation of “big data” accumulating in registries and health information exchanges (HIEs) across the country.

It’s the strategic use [sharing and analysis] of this “big data” – to provide more insightful answers and the potential to drive better clinical decision making – that represents the nirvana of health care reform in America.

And if you’ve gotten this far explaining health care reform to your patient… you’re waiting room is probably full.