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A time of constant change

Healthcare providers in all sectors need a long-term response to the current environment.

Peter Gabriel's beautifully reflective song Downside Up contains the line: 'The only constant I am sure of, is this accelerating rate of change.' It was written in 2000, at a time when the biggest area of uncertainty for healthcare comms was whether the global HQ or the UK affiliate had bragging rights to pitch to Scrip World Pharmaceutical News.

Now, I am fairly certain Mr Gabriel did not have the future of the healthcare industry in mind when he wrote these words, but right here, right now his lyrics feel very applicable.

The story of Nuffield Health is testament to the 'accelerating rate of change' that we are all running to keep up with. Nuffield Health has taken some bold steps to diversify its offering, recognising that the world of healthcare provision is changing at an ever increasing pace.

Almost every one of our clients is involved in its own change management programme to stay relevant and successful in these turbulent times. Some are focusing on external change such as business diversification or delivery of added value, while others are looking at their internal structure and efficiencies.

What no company can afford to do is bask in the status quo and do nothing - not least because the status quo usually equates to the time it takes Apple to bring out a new version of its latest i-must-have gadget.

Nuffield Health's diversification tells of a company acknowledging that the traditional model of 'treatment' is only the final chapter in a bigger story. Its purchase of Cannons Gym was a proactive move into prevention - something that many pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers are pursuing in their own parallel worlds with great vigour.

As more and more 'treatments' lose patent protection, opportunities in prevention and education become ever more appealing. Preventive care provides a space for organisations to play an active role in the evolution of social wellbeing.

It is, of course, a shame that what is in principle a noble pursuit - and yes, it is possible to be noble and make money at the same time - is compromised by those hijacking the preventive agenda for a quick return - tin of spaghetti as one of your 'five a day' anyone? But, as with so many things, riding out the fads and remembering the end goal is the key to true impact.

Indeed, focusing on the long term is the magic dust that marks the difference between surviving and flourishing in a rapidly changing world. There is no avoiding the contentious nature of long-term investment versus short-term success - even not-for-profits like Nuffield Health have to get the blend right or someone comes knocking.

Deep down, even the most ardent bean-counter knows that long-term success requires long-term planning. The problem these days is that it can be hard to see what the long term might look like.

So, should we be frightened by this accelerating rate of change? I would say no - evolution is inevitable and has always been there, it just requires constant vigilance. For organisations like Nuffield Health, which are proactively evolving and diversifying, there are massive opportunities to be at the forefront of future health provision.

Indeed, it struck me that NHS Choices, the name of the NHS patient information website, actually perfectly captures the array of opportunities facing healthcare providers, be they taxpayer funded, not-for-profit or commercial.

These are times of great change, but also times of great choice. The choice an organisation might just possibly regret most is doing nothing.

Daniel Kent is director & partner and head of healthcare PR London at Fleishman-Hillard

Views in brief

Which patient group has deployed the most effective comms strategy?

Save the Children's No Child Born to Die campaign is impressive because it resonates in any language or culture. Importantly STC seems committed to it.

Too often organisations change campaigns before they can make a difference.

On which healthcare comms project are you most proud of working?

The Am I Number 12? campaign for the World Hepatitis Alliance. Seeing something we developed make a difference in so many countries around the world was phenomenal. It reaffirmed my belief in the power of global comms and more importantly it changed lives.

From PRWeek's healthcare supplement, March 2012

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