|Steve Halsey and Anne Green co-authored this article.|
Modern healthcare was already at a breaking point before the pandemic. Now, two-plus years since COVID-19 first made the news, the structural and social pressures on the healthcare system have only accelerated.
Consumers are no longer satisfied with the status quo and are demanding changes across every aspect of the healthcare delivery experience. They want to demystify and humanize it as well as ensure easier access and more affordable high-quality options.
Doctors, nurses and other frontline professionals are fighting the physical and mental burnout associated with years of continuously battling the pandemic—and the structural challenges associated with the healthcare workforce that preceded it. Meanwhile, healthcare administrators are facing a host of operational and business issues, ranging from the big picture, macroeconomic and societal shifts impacting the delivery of care and their ability to operate without disruption, to the very direct and on-the-ground manifestation of these factors on their own workforce.
Yet it’s not just the point of healthcare delivery that’s stressed. From established pharma and medical device companies to small technology startups, payers to investors, educators and researchers and associations and charities, the entire system is under tremendous pressure to change and evolve. This is as technology’s transformative impact continues to drive fundamental changes across the entire ecosystem, from drug discovery, to clinical trials, to service delivery, to patient—and provider—experiences and expectations.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '22 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
(view PDF version)
Big shifts, big opportunities
In 2021, G&S Business Communications fielded a consumer survey and identified significant opportunities for improving healthcare communications, particularly when it comes to engaging with patients. We found that while addressing the urgent, evolving challenges of the pandemic has fundamentally reshaped the American medical industry, three forward-looking communications trends rose to the top. These include:
Reducing healthcare disparities. The pandemic opened the door to virtual business-to-individual telehealth, which has the power to break down language and location barriers and open the door to wider and faster access and more equitable healthcare services.
Skyrocketing healthcare mobile apps. From ordering prescriptions and making appointments to texting with providers, increased use of mobile healthcare apps appears—finally—to be here to stay.
Embracing digital business-to-individual communication. As communication with providers, health insurers and other key stakeholders became more digital, consumers confirmed they expect to be more reliant on digital communications in the future.
Among the most important findings of the research is the impact of the ongoing evolution toward using telehealth and other digital B2I communications to provide patients with the services they need, how and when they need it. While the direct, human connection between patients and healthcare providers will always stand at the core of healthcare, digital B2I is rapidly catching up and, in some respects, surpassing in-person engagement in certain settings. Indispensable during the pandemic for safety reasons, consumers have now identified digital communication channels as the ones they’re most likely to continue using long after the pandemic.
A tapestry of issues
While the healthcare space has always been challenging and, by its nature, a profoundly multi-stakeholder environment, it’s now facing an even more complex and interdependent matrix of issues. The intensity of today’s landscape and associated challenges require a commensurate shift in how we approach communications.
Savvy communicators must view these issues as a tapestry of inherently interrelated pressures. While it may seem more manageable to try to address them one at a time, the reality is that none exist in a vacuum. There’s significant intersectionality among them.
Communicators must also work in lockstep with other key internal stakeholders throughout their organization, particularly when that organization is a hospital, health system or other provider-side entity, to ensure consistency, continuity, and accuracy in what is being operationalized as well as communicated.
Given the challenges of the current environment, we offer eight considerations for healthcare communicators:
Break silos: Seek to continuously break down internal silos and cross-discipline silos to ensure fully realized communications strategies across all stakeholders.
Set the context: Establishing context is especially important when communicating major shifts in healthcare delivery, as well as managing crisis communications around significant and dynamic challenges.
Prioritize preparedness: Apply a crisis communications mindset to all aspects of communications—including an emphasis on preparedness, an always-on structure, a seamless blend of human insight with a smart digital tech stack, and consistent engagement with other senior internal stakeholders.
Activate commtech: Dig into the fast-emerging areas of CommTech to activate critical digital tools and processes, including placing a priority on social listening tools and stakeholder engagement.
Live omnichannel: Recognize that we now live in a fully omnichannel world and it has implications for communications strategies and execution. Deepen your understanding of how your stakeholders are consuming information across a variety of mediums, platforms and devices. Then work to educate patients using all available channels: blog posts, online articles, TV appearances, radio interviews, mobile apps, tailored local campaigns that target different segments of patient populations, and more.
Lean into the benefits of B2I: Telehealth is the most cost-effective means of solving many healthcare disparities issues. Tell stories not just about its convenience, but also about how telehealth can help provide access to patients who have no other alternatives.
Feature your heroes: Doctors, PAs, nurses and medical research scientists still have a solid reputation among most of the American public, so leverage this positive view to build trust in critical healthcare innovations and offerings.
Center comms on patients and your workforce: It’s always critical to keep patients at the center of any communications strategy. They’re the North Star. But a healthcare organization’s workforce is equally vital to center at the heart of our work—and core stakeholders for our communications and messaging.
It can be difficult to plan effective communications strategies when each day seems to bring an urgent crisis with lives at stake. And everyone in the industry is continually and profoundly challenged—from essential frontline providers and support staff to researchers, managers, payers and individuals throughout the supply chain. Yet it’s in this struggle, and at the intersection of the digitization, humanization and transformation of healthcare, that great storytelling and powerful communications can make a profound and lasting impact on people’s lives.
Steve Halsey and Anne Green are Principals at G&S Business Communications.