The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it an epic challenge for the communicators of the healthcare industry. The sheer magnitude of this event has widened the scope of work from communications and advocacy to become a human imperative. Unambiguous, evidence-based, targeted messaging, combined with persuasive mobilisation of people and resources, has proved to be the need of the hour. To bring this alive, healthcare communicators have had to unlearn and re-learn some fundamentals and consider not just their own objectives but the greater common good.
Align with clear objectives
What adds to the complexity of the current scenario is that even with all hands on deck, there is a paucity of resources and criticality of timing. In this time of great resource strain, an organisation needs to be clearer than ever about what it is trying to achieve through its communications efforts.
There are three main objectives that our work is currently focused on delivering:
- Communicate effectively with the audience to achieve sustainable healthcare.
- Facilitate a rational approach in public health through policy and governance, accountability and leadership.
- Create an enabling environment so that policymakers can ensure that talking points become action points.
Alignment with the above objectives can contribute to India getting back on a path to normality in the fastest possible timeframe.
Focus on evidence and facts
One of the most challenging aspects of managing healthcare communication today is the proliferation of misinformation and manipulated news. How do you, then, build trust and deliver true impact? Staying on facts, backing it up with evidence and communicating through credible channels, with the support of trustworthy key opinion leaders, will go a long way in establishing trust. Keeping things simple is more important than ever.
Messaging and tonality
If there is anything this past year has taught us, it is that this is the time to demonstrate that you are there with the community and not just selling to it – a lesson overdue. Messaging needs to be around what a company can do for people, the clear value proposition. Tonality has to be empathetic and solution-oriented, and obviously not alarmist or self-serving. In the case of policy-related issues or advocacy, messaging and tonality become even more important, because as a business, a healthcare organisation is under heightened scrutiny for how it is communicating.
Data-based insights and creativity
Creativity is not about gimmicks or aesthetics. It is about building an idea based on an insight—a human need. For that you need data analytics combined with human intelligence. Data analytics has really been a core need during this period and has led to some critical insights. Take vaccines, for instance. Why are some people open to them and some completely closed? Is there a fear or mistrust, or is there a peer pressure or is it an issue of access? Once you identify the layer beneath the layer, your communication idea can be more targeted and therefore deliver greater and more sustained impact.
Speed and clarity
Our work must be clear and easily understood so that it doesn’t lead to confusion or rumours. Using the most appropriate tools, we as communicators must translate the latest medical and scientific knowledge into simple messages. The ultimate goal of this chain is to arm the public with clear ‘call to action’ messages – what to do and not to do – to wage a successful fight against this invisible deadly virus. Since there is urgency, short, simple, clear and legible content will save time and direct people to the right information. This will also lead to traffic for the websites as well as other social media platforms.
Supporting the healthcare workers
As communicators, we have a huge responsibility to our frontline colleagues. Not just to boost their morale for doing an excellent job under tremendous duress, but also because their heroic tales must be told and retold, to give people hope in this environment of despair and anxiety. The depression inside a COVID ward is not just about patients, but also about those caregivers who have witnessed too many disturbing sights. The stories are not just for internal communications purpose only but can also be repurposed for external communications for a wider and larger audience. It is also a smart way to advocate for the needs of the healthcare workers – like the need for oxygen concentrators, or efficacy of plasma therapy, or availability of Remdesivir and Ivermectin medicine – to the policymakers to make swift amends.
The healthcare communication and advocacy practice is a sensitive area, as we deal with human lives and at this time, it is also one of the world’s most critical needs. With sound communications fundamentals, combined with insight-based creativity and a focus on the greater common good, we can really give healthcare providers vital support in their endeavour to save lives, during the pandemic and beyond.