Aug 06, 2013

3 Imperatives for Healthcare Communicators Managing Industry Change (& Lessons for the Rest of Us)

Keynote speaker Paul Matsen of Cleveland Clinic.

Keynote speaker Paul Matsen of Cleveland Clinic.

The sold-out Future of Healthcare Communications Summit held last week in New York and jointly hosted by PR Newswire and the Business Development Institute focused on the major challenges posed by the Affordable Care Act to American healthcare providers.  According to Ray Kerins (@RayKerins), senior vice president and head of communications & public affairs at Bayer Corporation, the healthcare industry currently suffers from a lack of open dialogue and major distrust amongst patients towards healthcare systems. Three major recurring themes throughout the summit offered inventive solutions for mending fragmented relationships between healthcare providers and their patients:

1.       Reform negative public opinion toward healthcare systems

A troubling observation presented by Kerins showed that none of the top ten companies on Forbes’ 2013 List of the World’s Most Admired Companies is a healthcare provider. Kerins believes that in order for healthcare communicators to “recapture the brilliance of the industry,” they must re-examine mistakes made in the past to avoid repetition and engage with stakeholders.

Paul Matsen (@pgmat), chief marketing and communications officer at Cleveland Clinic, discussed five marketing strategies executed at Cleveland Clinic to help transform negative public opinion. While the clinic upheld a legacy as a prominent referral center, it was widely perceived as being inaccessible. In addition to the “Same-Day Appointments” program, Cleveland Clinic differentiates itself by helping physicians patent their intellectual property to build start-up companies and form alliances. Through access, alliances, targeting, engagement, and a branded patient experience, Cleveland Clinic was re-established as a leader in world class care. 

2.       Create content for multiple channels

David Blair (@drblair1), head of industry for health at Google, reported that

David Blair of Google delivered a look into the future of healthcare technology.

David Blair of Google delivered a look into the future of healthcare technology.

90% of all consumption is screen based, with 77% of consumers relying on screen technologies for health information. In fact, an astounding 7 billion searches on Google are specific to health conditions. According to Blair, the proliferation of screens has empowered patients, creating a need for branded experiences within multiple contexts. “We live in a constantly connected world of moments,” he explains, “Think of your brand message as liquid content; you want to flow to every device at any time.” A fascinating adoption of multi-channel health content occurred this year when UCLA live-tweeted a brain surgery for the first time using Twitter’s vine app.

Monique Levy (@monlevy), vice president of research at Manhattan Research, supports the notion of multi-format engagement. A Manhattan Research study concluded that the amount of time consumers spend searching for material depends on the type of device being used. While smartphones supply “quick hit information,” tablets and desktops are used for “lean back learning.” The results emphasize a need for appropriately formatted content for each type of communications device.

 

3. Personalize engagement with customers 

While some consider press releases to be old-fashioned, they are still regarded as a highly dependable source of information. Gil Bashe (@Gil_Bashe), EVP and health practice director at Makovsky, refers to a Makovsky-Kelton Health Info Study which found that company press releases have higher trust amongst patients than company websites or social media.

Mike Slone (@MikeSlone17), design director at Eliza Corporation, believes that disengaging marketing tactics like charts and brochures have steered patients away from building trust with healthcare providers. Instead, Eliza Corporation developed a vulnerability index (VI) which uses survey data to quantify the impact of everyday stress factors. A high VI score indicates an increased risk of developing health issues likes diabetes, depression, and heart disease. To promote healthy living, ad campaigns address daily anxieties with humor, such as “Exercise to Avoid Punching Your Boss in the Face.” Slone says that health communication is “not just about health, but about the quality of life you live.”

There’s no question the Affordable Care Act is changing access to and the delivery of health care in the US, and represents a sea-change for the industry.  The imperative for communicators as they navigate these changes is clear – brands and organizations must both listen and speak to their audiences.  Messaging needs to address the questions and concerns of the constituents, not paper them over with brochures.   The common thread in the advice from the speakers was the focus on the audience, a good guide for any marketing or PR professional steering message strategy through uncertain waters.

Author Shannon Ramlochan is a member of PR Newswire’s marketing team. 

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