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Healthcare Communications: A Matter of Creativity & Responsibility
Weber Shandwick is a global healthcare communications agency that provides strategic guidance for businesses and organisations. They use storytelling to help their Swiss-based and international clients communicate effectively and deliver on their business objectives.
I met with Anna Gallais, Deputy Managing Director and Senior VP in Healthcare at Weber Shandwick, Switzerland, to find out more about healthcare communication.
One of Anna’s many roles at Weber Shandwick is healthcare communication. With her team, she works with clients to help them face business challenges by providing effective communication strategies.
In the first part of this two-part series, we will be looking at what healthcare communication is.
What is healthcare communication?
Communication is primarily about coming up with an interesting story that will get people engaged.
Healthcare communication differs from other types of communication in several ways.
First, and most importantly, you have a much greater responsibility. When communicating about healthcare, you may have the most creative campaign in the world but if the campaign does not highlight a positive health benefit then you are missing the point. Whether it is from a patient’s point of view or in trying to move the healthcare system forward, there must be a positive healthcare outcome. For example, to increase treatment adherence or improve treatment outcomes.
“Healthcare communication is like any other type of communication. The key difference is that the responsibility you have in healthcare communication is much greater.”
Secondly, from a regulatory point of view, healthcare communication is more restrictive. There are a number of boundaries that need to be considered in order to get the right information to patients and healthcare professionals. A concrete example is the need to be able to collect and report on any patient-reported concerns or side effects. Once again, having the most creative campaign is useless if it gets rejected by a company due to regulatory or medical concerns.
Which channels are used to communicate with a company’s audience?
In healthcare, as with all other sectors, you need to consider all communication channels. Whether they are offline or online (social media is obviously a part of it). One of the biggest questions you need to ask yourself when communicating about healthcare is, “With whom do I want to communicate?”
“Because when it comes to healthcare communication, whether it’s a new drug or a disease that you want to create awareness for, the question is who do you want to target? Do I want to reach the patient population? Do I want to reach the caregiver population?”
Defining your target population will not only help you tailor your message but also know which communication channels to use to reach them. For example, you may want to target healthcare workers through Instagram. However, this may not be the right channel for your content. You also need to make sure that you have enough visually engaging material to be able to allow your message to stand out.
What skills do you need to work in healthcare communications?
If you want to work in healthcare communication, at some point in time you need to understand the boundaries set by regulation. It is only once you have understood the regulations that you have to work with that you will be able to be a good healthcare communicator.
“I didn’t know when I first started working in consumer goods, but one of the things you need to understand before you can be a good healthcare communicator are the boundaries. Once you understand what the restrictions are then you can understand how to overcome them”
In order to work within the boundaries, you also need rigor. The rules and regulations are there for a reason and you need to run any project in a respectful and compliant way. A good way to ensure that you comply with restrictions and exercise rigor is to have great project management skills. Anticipating hurdles and being able to address them before they become a problem is important for a smooth-running project and maintaining good contact with the client or target audience.
In addition to understanding restrictions and being rigorous, a certain dose of creativity is needed in order to stand out. Everyone in healthcare communication is working with the same rules and regulations (which are becoming more and more stringent). Failing to make your message interesting, informative, and engaging will drown it.
“Because everybody in the field is working with the same restrictions, it is especially important that you add some creativity. Because if you just understand the rules and you’re rigorous, you can deliver, but it becomes very difficult to stand out”
Healthcare communication and the public
There has probably never been a better time to be in healthcare communication or even scientific communication in general. People are becoming more interested in knowing for themselves now than they were before. They want to know more so that they can make the right decisions when it comes to treatment options or lifestyle. A lot more people are looking for health-related information and it is important that they find the right information, presented in the right way using words that they understand.
Because of this rise in interest, there is an ongoing debate about transparency in scientific communication. One way to be transparent is to share everything, but without the right background, deciphering the information and coming to sound conclusions, it is almost impossible. Effective healthcare communication is about taking information and, without changing the nature of the message, presenting it in a way that is understandable by others. Sometimes just a small change in wording can have a big impact on a person’s understanding.
“You need to not only make sure that what you are communicating is the right information and that it is scientifically accurate, but you also need to make sure that it is at the right level.”
We would like to thank Anna Gallais of Weber Shandwick for making the time to do this interview. As she mentioned, healthcare communication is a fascinating field and one in which there is a great responsibility. You must be able to present the right information, to the right people, in a way that they understand. Whether you are communicating with healthcare workers, scientists, or patients, the words and the channels of communication you choose to use are important. You need, in addition, to be aware of the regulatory restrictions that you are working with.
To communicate effectively, your message needs to stand out. For this, you will not only need a lot of rigor but also a dash of creativity!
In the next article, we will be looking at what it is like to be a healthcare communicator in an agency such as Weber Shandwick.