Issues of trust to dominate healthcare PR landscape

2013 roared to a close for healthcare newsmakers and news watchers.

2013 roared to a close for healthcare newsmakers and news watchers. Industry-shaking developments ranged from faulty government websites to headlines escalating about company sales and marketing practices, as well as pricing strategies.

As the healthcare PR landscape evolves, the following key forces will shape day-to-day communications decisions regarding brands and corporate reputations in 2014:

Affordable Care Act tilts trust to new low
Promises evaporated almost as fast as they were made – website problems, sticker shock, canceled policies, restrictive physician networks – and all will contribute to patient distrust in the healthcare sector. Every stakeholder in healthcare will be affected by this climate of patient suspicion. Focused efforts to build trust via transparency and continuous communications must underpin all brand actions.

GSK ripple effect
Pharma companies, even when working strictly within the law, have faced a string of regulatory fines and legal assaults this year. As regulatory bodies redefine standards and dialogue on transparency, risk-benefit of new therapies, and, of course, pricing and sales practices, all companies will need to rethink their M&S model. PR will have to move in step and innovate ahead of public sentiment.

Analytics to more successfully pinpoint strategies
Companies are launching drugs faster than they have in the past four decades, but fewer are blockbusters. This will mean finding the right patients and supporting the appropriate treating physicians with complex, highly targeted information. PR professionals will need better data analytics and more scientific knowledge to segment audiences and communicate accurate information.

Digital tools unlock era of patient engagement
All countries are feeling the pain of rising healthcare costs, and the pressure is on to deliver approaches that can make a quantifiable difference. Patient engagement is the key to success. Companies have sought for the past 15 years to “wrap solutions” – i.e., treatment, care – around a patient in addition to their medicines. This is especially important for patients who have lived for years with asthma, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, cancer, or diabetes. While there have always been problems with compliance, simple new tools that keep pace with everyday innovation, such as smartphones and tailored apps, are poised to have a significant impact on treatment and disease education success.

The new Holy Trinity view of KPIs
At its core, healthcare PR is about reaching patients – motivating them to take better care of their health, as well as providing real-time information about the latest discoveries and updates on marketed products. Old notions of siloed “traditional vs. digital” media do not exist anymore. PR is the Holy Grail of storytelling, and we need to further fine-tune our skills to capture attention and influence behavior via all channels – earned, paid, and owned media. With these trends in mind, PR strategies, content, and channel delivery will undoubtedly advance in 2014.  Susan Goldstein is global head of healthcare at Ruder Finn.

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