Healthcare communications needs to get more personal

Our customers just wrote the healthcare industry its first prescription. It says, "Speak with me QID, TID, or BID, as long as you have a conversation with me and listen to what I have to say."

Our customers just wrote the healthcare industry its first prescription. It says, "Speak with me QID, TID, or BID, as long as you have a conversation with me and listen to what I have to say." In smaller letters, it also says, "Don't worry if you aren't engaged in social media today, just start trying and we'll figure it out together."

It's time for us to have conversations with customers worldwide. It's time for full engagement. It's also time to admit the old model is, in fact, old. Traditional advertising is diminishing in value and has been for some time. Media consists of offline and online media, together. Convergence isn't happening; it happened.

Our customers are more than willing to find the information they need without us. People who have a disease or want to protect their health demand answers immediately and increasingly turn first to sources they trust, not waiting room TV sets or glossy pamphlets. They find like-minded people in communities online. Companies need to figure out how to become relevant participants in the conversation.

It may feel like a "rush" to figure out social media, but this has been brewing for some time. The changes in how we need to interact with customers are dramatic. Ten languages reach 90% of the online world, not one or two. How people consume content is trending toward video, yet we still place most of our focus on creating new written copy. Study after study is showing that three out of four people look to peers before making a purchase or a health decision. More than ever, peers matter when decisions are important.

This prescription is a gift of unparalleled value to our industry. We have a great story of how medicine saves or improves lives and how physicians and healthcare providers help shape our lives each and every day. All we have to do is listen, learn, and ensure we communicate in a human way - person to person.

For the communications profession, this is our era to redefine what a valuable relationship means with patients and providers. So don't tweak the box we're in. Step outside it, build a new way of communicating, and gradually get rid of the old box.

Our customers want us to fill their prescription. I hope it's one we don't have to renew for many years.

Bob Pearson is chief technology and media officer for WeissComm Group and president of The Social Media Business Council.

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