Beth FriedmanBeth Friedman

Healthcare is a unique industry. What sets it apart is our product: We’re in the business of human life. The regulations are complicated and the ramifications of poor quality are disastrous. For example, if HIV testing or cancer screening results are faulty the consequences are grave.

Health information technology supports virtually every process, procedure and encounter in the healthcare ecosystem. While health IT looks ripe for profit from the outside, few companies understand the intensity and specifications of the industry. This is one of the reasons countless Fortune 50 companies have entered and left the healthcare space.

Though health IT seems like a market worth investing in, it’s not the right fit for every Silicon Valley startup or international corporation. Hence the need for PR and marketing agencies to take a serious look at all prospective health IT clients. Success isn’t always assured. Here are seven important questions agencies dedicated to the health IT industry should ask.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '20 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine (view PDF version)

Has the prospective client done the market research? Make sure the prospective client conducts market research and knows their target audience. Healthcare technology is wide ranging and it’s important to be familiar with the industry’s niche areas before diving in. Typical B-to-C public relations and marketing practices don’t always work, which is why many companies leave the industry just as quickly as they enter.

Does the client have at least one or two successful healthcare beta sites ready to be interviewed? Healthcare buyers are a leery bunch. They rely primarily on peer references from other hospitals, health systems and physician groups. Beta sites are essential for proving the viability of a product and its potential in the healthcare IT space. They deliver the proof points necessary to build credibility and open editorial doors in this industry.

Do both parties—agency and client—have the right people lined up? Healthcare experience and knowledge are critical on both sides: agency and client. Make sure the client has a good spokesperson with a clinical background. Credentials are crucial to establishing credibility with healthcare media outlets and associations. In addition, assign team members that have interest in and knowledge of the healthcare field. Passion and commitment speak loudly in healthcare.

Is everyone comfortable with the healthcare industry lingo? Clients and agency team members must be familiar with common terminology and acronyms used in healthcare. And beware: there are thousands of them. From medical diagnoses to IT and regulatory lingo, one key to success in healthcare is being able to “talk the talk.”

For example, PR team members should know the common medical diagnoses addressed by a client’s solution, such as COPD. They should also be familiar with any healthcare technology acronyms used by the target audience. Finally, there’s a plethora of regulatory lingo in healthcare such as PHI, or protected health information.

Learning healthcare lingo is important because it helps the client and the agency speak intelligently with each other, with editors and to the industry.

Are guide rails in place to respect the limitations and regulations of healthcare? Healthcare is highly regulated and bureaucratic. It’s a difficult industry to navigate without understanding the limitations, especially as a PR firm. With laws surrounding privacy and NDAs around proprietary technology and practices, it can be challenging to create content that also lends itself to credibility.

One way to open editorial doors is through healthcare’s professional associations. Virtually every department within a hospital or health system has its own association. These professional associations are often more willing to accept bylined contributions and interview sources from within their ranks.

Does the team recognize that healthcare is primarily a nonprofit business? According to the American Hospital Association’s 2020 fact sheet on U.S. hospitals, the number of nongovernment non-profit community hospitals is more than twice the number of investor-owned (for-profit) community hospitals in the US. Hospitals often give their services away for free or at a fraction of the cost when patients can’t afford a hospital stay or lack adequate healthcare coverage.

But unlike consumer brands, hospitals must take care of the customer even when the customer is unable to pay. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, passed in 1986, states that a hospital can’t deny someone medical care based on their ability to pay. Hospitals run on slim margins.

It’s important that agencies seeking work in the healthcare industry understand and respect the philanthropy of healthcare.

Can you quickly build editorial relations within the healthcare trade? Healthcare editors are a small yet influential group. To build rapport with them, agency teams must be sincere and knowledgeable, understand their niche and invest time and money to meet them. Editors’ inboxes often overflow with pitches like in any other industry. However, they tend to rely primarily on their trusted sources. Reach out to the individuals and agencies they trust and form partnerships with them to ease your way into editors’ doors.

Healthcare is a complex industry, and you need a team that understands it in order to be successful. Be mindful of the companies you take on, the realities of the industry and the media relationships you create in order to achieve mutual success.


Beth Friedman is Founder and CEO of Agency Ten22 in Atlanta.