Communication with Care

Best practices for the medical industry during heightened institutional distrust and hesitancy.

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Asian man wear face mask receive Coronavirus vaccine injection jab by nurse or general practitioner at hospital or healthcare clinic service. People on vaccination or Covid-19 pandemic relief concept

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By George Litos, Principal of Life Sciences, Business Consulting at EPAM Systems, Inc.

New technology typically is met with equal parts excitement and redundancy, the most notable example being the mRNA vaccines. In an age of rapid medical and theological inventions, the consumer can be overwhelmed by all the noise, unable to cut through the walls of news and drama. Unlike other technologies, the spotlight on companies that manufacture these vaccines have become household names. 

Some welcome these and see them as a pre-requisite to combat a once in a century virus while others are skeptical or require further evidence before buying in.  An effective consumer-based marketing and communication strategy needs to place the patient at the center of healthcare services, speaking to their hesitancy and concerns rather than speaking at or over them. Moreover, by using a multifaceted approach to communication that deploys personable messaging and utilizes two-way communication channels – like social media – medical professionals will encourage consumers to take advantage of the modern medicine available.  

Using data to put the consumer/patient at the central  

The consumer is at the core of any new successful medical product’s launch and commercialization. The vaccine is no exception. Best communication practices require that healthcare organizations create a 360-degree view of customers to derive helpful insights. Medical companies will need to establish a customer data platform to understand a wide range of consumers – such a task will be a complex undertaking necessitating domain and engineering experience. Data is the foundation of any communication strategy.

However, companies must maintain data integration and governance, minimizing data silos and preventing enterprise applications from being disconnected. Likewise, medical practitioners will need the assistance from manufacturers to understand consumer sentiments and hesitancies about these vaccines.  Connecting the players in the ecosystem is imperative and can be facilitated through analyzing consumer data from both internal and external sources. Above all, transparency and trust need to be at the forefront of data use and management, especially regarding people’s medical records. 

Data will also help the healthcare industry better serve patients. With a library of clinical data, medical professionals can communicate the benefits and the safety of novel products.   

Communicating with care 

The healthcare industry depends on empathetic communication. People experience the entire spectrum of emotions, from fear and sadness to anger and confusion. A medical practitioner’s bed-side-manner should inhabit all forms of communication. Proper and effective communication emphasizes developing connections with patients and aims to change a consumer’s behavior rather than sell to them, empowering over persuading.

The best healthcare communication practices must seek to equip patients with as much factual information as possible – without overwhelming them, of course – so that the consumers are fully capable of making decisions for themselves. Conversely, ineffective communication strategies use excessive jargon, ignore feedback or belittle patients for holding divergent opinions.     

A real-world example of a considerate and positive communication campaign was the Tips from Former Smokers by the CDC. In the campaign, the CDC profiled real people who spoke as patients and not as authorities. By sharing the health effects of long-term smoking and providing tips for quitting, this communication strategy sought to empathize and inform consumers rather than impose the latest medical product.

Meeting patients where they are at 

Today, consumers use all kinds of communication channels, from TV and radio to social media and print. Additionally, consumers are highly segmented, with Generation Z using significantly different channels compared to Baby Boomers. An ideal healthcare communications strategy meets customers where they are at, leveraging digital and non-digital resources to engage them throughout their entire journey. Medical and pharmaceutical companies should take a multifaceted approach to communication that inspires open and two-way interactions.

Fostering conservation is easier said than done – but helping patients feel heard will work to dispel trepidation. One proven method is through blogs, which researchers found improved online traffic growth by 55% and grew ROI by 11% within one year of starting the blog. Plus, blogs provide patients with a means of interacting with medical professionals to break down barriers that typically inhibit healthcare entities from building relationships with those they serve.

Similarly, medical companies can boost engagement with their patients by leveraging alternative communication channels like social media. While traditional pharma brands are conservative regarding social media, patients interact with these channels every day. Another campaign by the CDC, which worked to provide crucial information on prediabetes and type 2 diabetes prevention, found great success by messaging their key audiences through their preferred communication channels, including social media.   

A communication strategy fit for the changing times   

In a world with eroded trust in institutions and fewer face-to-face interactions, advanced medical technology is perceived with hesitancy. The medical industry must use data-centered communication strategies that prioritize consumer needs and give the patient a voice to combat misinformation and deliver life-saving treatments. 

George Litos is Principal of Life Sciences, Business Consulting at EPAM Systems, Inc.  With more than 20 years’ experience in management consulting, he has spent the majority of his time in the Life Sciences space.  George currently leads EPAM’s offerings in Commercial Life Sciences and is responsible for developing new capabilities that meet the changing dynamics of the industry.