Healthcare Roundtable: Under the microscope

With massive healthcare reform imminent, comms leaders gathered in New York for this Chandler Chicco Companies-hosted roundtable to discuss topics ranging from patient engagement to talent recruitment.

With massive healthcare reform imminent, comms leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York for this Chandler Chicco Companies-hosted roundtable to discuss topics ranging from patient engagement to talent recruitment.

The panelists
Julie Adrian, West Coast operations head, Chandler Chicco Companies
Lissette Capati, SVP, Spectrum
Wendy Johnson-Askew, VP of corporate affairs, Nestlé
Denise Kaigler, SVP of corporate affairs and comms, Boston Scientific
Gulden Mesara, senior director of global brand comms, AbbVie
Jennifer Perciballi, VP of PR, Everyday Health
Ed Lang, PR director, Genentech

Dealing with the law
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
The Affordable Care Act is nearing entry into law. How will its official beginning change communications strategies to both consumers and professionals?

Julie Adrian (Chandler Chicco Companies [CCC]): The entire game is changing – finally – for our industry and everyone's role needs to be examined. What are their new responsibilities? As communicators, the key is embracing that change, leaning in, and not being afraid of it. Moreover, this isn't about volume. It needs to be about content, authenticity, and transparency.

Denise Kaigler (Boston Scientific): There is so much confusion out there with respect to the law, but that has existed for a while. I joined Boston Scientific two and a half years ago. I recall going out, talking to reporters, and all of them telling me our press releases were so complicated. If a reporter doesn't understand the information we're putting out there, how can everyday consumers? Our messaging must be as simple and accessible as possible.

Jennifer Perciballi (Everyday Health): We have conversations with consumers every day. As more people take an active role in selecting and managing their healthcare, more questions emerge. There will be even more the day the law is on the books, still more a year after that. Consumers will have questions they don't even know about yet, so we have to be very anticipatory as well.

Our ultimate goal – and that of all communicators in this sector – is to provide information and tools so people can make the best health and wellness decisions., our consumer-facing website, is building out an entire education center on healthcare reform that actually talks about what the new laws mean for everyone. It's very scenario-specific and breaks it down by age, family dynamic, even employment.

MedPage Today, our physician-facing and healthcare professional website, is helping doctors, clinicians, and healthcare practitioners more easily navigate this new era while still providing the best patient care. This dual messaging we are all responsible for is crucial because there will be a lot of real-time discussion taking place at physicians' offices and we need to make sure consumers come in with the right questions.

Wendy Johnson-Askew (Nestlé): Healthcare reform will change our lives forever. It's beautiful that all people can have healthcare, but it is also a great challenge to communicators. Think about all the people who are uninsured now, many of them between the ages of 18 and 34. You will have 45 million people entering into a healthcare system they have never navigated before. Taken a step further, government data indicates that nine out of 10 people are health illiterate, but the number of physicians has not increased to prepare for the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare communicators can fill that gap with plain language, multi-venue outreach.

Gulden Mesara (AbbVie): When you look at countries outside the US, you see governments stepping up to provide universal insurance with different models. There are also different models of health technology assessment that really focus on outcomes. In the end, it goes back to the fundamentals. People are passionate about healthcare. If you only focus on outcomes, it becomes a numbers game. That's a gap communicators must look to fill.

The other part is around access. Companies with innovative offerings are really focusing on whether their schemes will limit access to new treatments for people who need them.

Lissette Capati (Spectrum): A key question to ask is whether or not people understand the value of healthcare. Probably not because they're not paying a big cost firsthand, so there isn't that transparency of data. So now, when people are being asked to pay premiums at younger ages, you have a larger volume of patients coming into the mix who all of a sudden are forced to care. They need reliable sources of information perhaps more than ever.

The payers are also going to play an increasing role in the education of patients, so that's another set of people entering the mix with vested interests.

Do-it-yourself health
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
With healthcare information so readily accessible to all, people are increasingly making choices on their own. How do healthcare communicators make sure their companies remain a part of the patient's decision-making process?

Capati (Spectrum): With all the research and analytics tools at our disposal, we can do a level of mapping to understand patient conversations and what's resonating with them. We can better recognize the patient experience throughout their lifecycle – from diagnosis through treatment.

This gives healthcare communicators so many touch points. You can better recognize all of the patients' needs – emotional, physical, and financial. With that broad picture, we can communicate more effectively because the messages are much more targeted. We understand the different things that patients care about at different points of their diagnosis and treatment.

Kaigler (Boston Scientific): There are six businesses within Boston Scientific and we have specific websites that help various disease states. With severe asthma, for example, Bronchial Thermaplasty is one of our big solutions and innovative treatments. At, those suffering from severe asthma can go online and learn about the treatment and how and where to access it.

When the site was first made available, we had one particular severe asthma sufferer who was visiting our website every single day to find out when this treatment was going to be approved. That drove home the point that patients are out there suffering who depend on us to quickly put information out. This underscores the importance of external communications when our devices are being approved and launching. It equally highlights the need to thoroughly populate our websites with information.

People who suffer from different medical issues think they're all by themselves. The more platforms our companies create to help different patients communicate with each other and share experiences, the better for everyone. Whether it's patient to patient, or practitioner to practitioner, a key role of ours is to connect the dots.

Adrian (CCC): A key element in this do-it-yourself conversation is that it's not just about the patient, but also how we help other stakeholders, including healthcare professionals. They need to prepare for the questions patients will be asking – and we can help them strategically. Denise mentioned advocacy groups. We need to arm them with information, too. It's the same with providers, hospitals, and nurse practitioners who have conversations with patients after they have been discharged. DIY is a reality and all stakeholders play a role in that. Our job is to keep them all informed and enable the DIY process to work the best it can.

Ed Lang (Genentech): Our job is to translate – take “high science” and make it meaningful. The vast amount of health information available to people today only makes our job as health communicators that much more critical. We can truly help people not only understand, but improve their health and make the right decisions. However, our focus must be on the person, not the product.

Mesara (AbbVie): We look at the patient journey, which can actually start before you're even a patient depending on what your illness is. Also based on what you have, you might be a very active seeker of information or you might be passive because you just don't know. All of that plays into shaping our efforts.

A lot of times we act based on our own assumptions, but when you communicate with patients and map out their journey and whom they are talking to, your perception changes, as does your engagement strategy.

For example, we often think that patients with chronic diseases might not know how serious the situation is. In fact, they often do know, but they don't put together a plan with their physicians around it. That knowledge directly impacted our decision to launch a website where people take a pledge to have a treatment plan with their physician for rheumatoid arthritis. The key is we needed to be educated and then we were able to add value to these patients' journeys.

Johnson-Askew (Nestlé): Gerber is a subsidiary of Nestlé and we speak to about 85% of moms in the US. We have a great feel for what they are seeking and where. We have a YouTube channel for moms who have problems with breast feeding or formula feeding. We also have 5 million-plus Facebook fans. We receive questions and start communities on various topics.

A major consideration for us in this era of DIY health is to identify the right point in time to make a referral to the healthcare provider because there's great risk in guiding someone incorrectly. Between healthcare providers, board-certified lactation consultants, and dieticians, we have people available 24-7 to help moms at their point of need. Our mandate is to be credible, timely, transparent, and truthful.

Perciballi (Everyday Health): For the purpose of clarification, it's better to call this DIY self-care because any reputable source of healthcare information will always strongly suggest a consultation with a doctor. The information we provide should inspire people to change, but still work with their doctor's protocol. Let's say you discover you're a diabetic. You can go online and find endless information, but then what? How do you live with it? Where do you find recipes for meals that you now need to be eating? Where do you find like-minded communities? That's where communicators come in.

Patient stories drive the dialogues that improve health outcomes. Our “Living With” series, which showcases bloggers who are living with conditions, works really well.

Health is personal, so there's nothing more passionate than hearing from someone affected. People connect to the emotion evoked by these patient stories – and they get educated along the way.

In addition, in the spirit of everyone being a content producer today, a mantra of ours is to remain interested and interesting. The more curious you are, the more you learn, the smarter you become. That gives you the information that can be conveyed in a compelling, engaging way. Your initial interest enabled you to become interesting to many people.

The definition of engagement
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Healthcare communicators today focus heavily on patient engagement. What are the most crucial factors to doing it effectively?

Lang (Genentech): Advancing science and improving patients' lives is not something that will be done by one company, university, or empowered patient. It can only be done by sharing information and experiences with each other. Not all solutions to our health needs will be found looking through a microscope.

Adrian (CCC): Listening. If you want to be relevant, authentic, passionate, and interesting – it starts there. Fortunately, there are more tools than ever to listen. Gulden spoke before about listening to patients before launching a service. And don't forget those 45 million people now entering the equation with the Affordable Care Act. A bevy of new voices we must listen to.

Johnson-Askew (Nestlé): Engagement is all about partnering. Our clients have to see us as partners in their journey, not as an entity that is separate and above. If a mom wants to know how to prepare a meal, she can – and should – go to our menu planner to guide her along the way.

Mesara (AbbVie): We have a biologic that treats psoriasis. Most people think you can just treat it with topicals, but when you go deep into the patient journey you find out sufferers are really not happy about their condition and have so many concerns you wouldn't automatically assume.

They don't know what to wear, for example. It's a real problem that impacts their day-to-day life. So we partnered with [well-known fashion expert] Stacy London on a program called Uncover Your Confidence to provide different outfits that you could wear if you have psoriasis.

The key to engagement, which can be an overused term, is doing so continuously and tapping into what's current for that audience.

Capati (Spectrum): Listening and understanding are, of course, crucial, but so is meeting someone where they are to help them make important decisions. Ultimately, there has to be a means to an end, a call to action. The tools and resources we provide patients are vital to helping them make more informed treatment decisions. That's the secret to engagement.

Perciballi (Everyday Health): Patient engagement relates to better health outcomes. Our mission is to make sure our audience has all the information and innovative tools to stay on track, whatever their health objective might be. It could be a busy mom trying to pick the best breakfast cereal for her child to somebody who is caring for an elderly parent. Boiling it down, though, the key currency for patient engagement is trust. For a media property such as ours, the information we share depends on it.

A story that comes to mind is an interview we did with a cardiologist who had a new technique for atrial fibrillation. One of our readers was really engaged and actually contacted this doctor, even though he was in a different state. Long story short, the patient ended up having the technique and is doing so much better. It's a great example of how engagement comes through in several different ways, this particular one being a specific change in behavior predicated on a good decision made based on information we provided in an interesting way.

Kaigler (Boston Scientific): People still like live events, too. We support different walks around the country. The Heart Walk is a major such event. Employees get involved, as do our executives, including our CEO. We raise money for the American Heart Association. Through our work on colon and pancreatic cancer we get involved with these events.

Of course, engagement is amplified by social media. We have sites that encourage patients to share stories and learn from one another, but also sites where healthcare providers can get together to share research and solutions. And then there are sites such as Pain is such a big issue. So many people deal with chronic pain, so our neuromodulation team in California works heavily on this site to create a safe environment where people can share with each other. Part of patient engagement is facilitating dialogue between parties.

America's changing face
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Certain diseases are more prevalent among different ethnic groups. The dramatic shift in the US population puts those concerns squarely on companies' radars. How are you addressing this growing audience's specific needs?

Perciballi (Everyday Health): As a media entity, we obviously recognize this shift, as well as the fact that certain ethnic groups are predisposed to certain conditions, many of which could be preventable.

We just hosted a live event called Everyday Health Reports with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who reports for Everyday Health and MedPage Today, as well as CNN. He thrives at doing something all communicators aspire to – eloquently and simply conveying often difficult-to-grasp information. This program drives conversations, certainly among ethnic groups.

One of our recent reports was on diabetes where Dr. Gupta interviewed New York Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley and Dr. Joel Zonszein, head of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. In the discussion, Dr. Farley revealed that there is a diabetes-related death every 90 minutes in New York City. That's a profound number that tracks higher than the national average. According to Dr. Zonszein, this could relate to the prevalence of ethnic groups in New York City.

It was such an interesting conversation that delved into what might be causing this. Perhaps it's the fact that so many people come here from Central America and they are no longer riding on their bicycle to get everywhere. They're taking subways and are not as active, but are still eating their favorite traditional foods that are very heavy in carbohydrates.

We look to drive conversations such as that through all our touch points online, on mobile, and on apps. Of course, TV is still a powerful vehicle and Everyday Health has a show that airs on CBS each Saturday, Recipe Rehab. The show is hosted by Evette Rios, who Latina Magazine called the “mobile Martha Stewart.” She is the centerpiece of the show, which is a key part of the Everyday Health food initiative. Our hope is to persuade more people from certain communities to make simple changes in their diets that can have major health benefits.

The show is not necessarily focused on multicultural audiences. It intends to pull in real families across America who submit their favorite family meals. We have two chefs compete to recreate that recipe in a healthy way. It's fun and entertaining, but still centered on health and welcoming of all multicultural groups.

Adrian (CCC): Obviously, we are way past the point of simply translating patient education brochures and the like into other languages. The listening and engagement we have been speaking about takes on, perhaps, even greater relevance here. Healthcare for different populations is approached in a very different way. Understanding the patient, their journey, their mindset is so crucial.

Do I engage with a community pharmacist who's at my local bodega? Is the church the center of all information? Micro-segmenting and micro-targeting is a key strategy here because even within Latino Americans, for example, there are subcultures and different dialects. It can be overwhelming, so you must be prepared to listen and learn.

Kaigler (Boston Scientific): Boston Scientific has a program called Close the Gap. Its main goal is addressing disparities in cardiovascular care for the underserved patient populations of women, black Americans, and Hispanic/Latino Americans. It focuses on community education, healthcare professional education, and adherence to guidelines.

Those communities don't have as much access to healthcare as white Americans, so we take such programs directly to the communities at events such as health fairs or basketball tournaments we sponsor. We'll do screenings on-site and then give them immediate information on nutrition, exercise, and so on.

These programs really open their eyes and help them understand why they are at risk and what we can do to help improve their health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. We're expanding that program to cover other disease states.

Johnson-Askew (Nestlé): We started a program with the City of Newark a couple of years ago around childhood obesity. The rate for children between the ages of 3 and 5 nationally is 10.4%. In Newark, it's 27% and it disproportionately affects children of color. With Mayor Cory Booker, we developed a program with an advisory board made up of community leaders and members of food and nutrition service WIC [Women, Infants, and Children], among others.

Fifty-three percent of the children born in this country receive WIC. Almost 60% of people in this country get some type of food subsidy. This program basically translates nutrition into practical information for parents, many of whom don't understand what's important for their children's nutrition. Our data shows that by the age of 2, a child's dietary patterns are set until they turn 4 or so. We have to get to them – and their parents – in that little period of time between 18 and 24 months.

Capati (Spectrum): I'm Puerto Rican. If I say “Ahorita,” I mean I'll get to it later. If I were Cuban and said “Ahorita,” I would mean right now. That's an example of the small, but crucial differences among sub-cultures within broader multicultural groups. It also underscores the critical importance of research. All communications needs to be insights-based. You must develop a very nuanced understanding of who your target population is and how best to reach them.

We've done a lot of work in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you look at all the scientific literature, there are many public health interventions and programs that have operated in silos, none of which have been terribly effective at managing disease or preventing the onset of diabetes. You now have these ridiculous rates of incidence.

With the research, analytics, and similar tools communicators now have, we can attain a much more nuanced understanding of who our specific targets are. It is incumbent upon us, though, to come together in a more cohesive way with industry, with partners, with community-based organizations, and public health officials.

Mesara (AbbVie): A challenge companies often face is they continuously talk to people who are “like you” or they work under the assumption that they already know what people want. Coming from a biopharmaceutical company, even when you do research into new treatments you build your programs to target different populations. It could be multicultural populations or, perhaps, populations of men who sleep with men.

What's unique is that once you bring in different stakeholder perspectives, it changes everything from your product offering to your service offering.

Combating social attacks
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
With the exposure social media affords come unprecedented opportunities for brands to be attacked on their own channels. How do you combat them?

Johnson-Askew (Nestlé): Simple as it sounds, it goes back to being authentic and truthful in your communications. We've also found that the community will correct those who are on the fringes. If you have that established partnership and relationship with communities, it goes a long way.

Adrian (CCC): This is similar to crisis communications – you have to be aware and prepared ahead of time. It's crucial to educate your internal stakeholders and executives on what could happen and show them examples to underscore the need to be prepared. And to echo others, an authentic, transparent engagement policy will always prevail.

Mesara (AbbVie): This year I had the opportunity to take part in the launch of a brand new company in AbbVie that came from an old company, Abbott. At Abbott, we had products in HIV and had to deal with a lot of activists. As communicators, we will sit around a table and we put together talking points and then go talk to people.

At AbbVie, we flipped that strategy – a shift facilitated by colleagues who had previously been activists or part of patient groups. They said we shouldn't do a talking tour, but rather a conversation tour. We shouldn't go to people with key messages, but rather key questions. And that's what we did. We came up with questions around what would we ask an activist. What would they expect from a new biopharma company? What have we done in the past that you wish we hadn't done and that the new company shouldn't? We learned so much from it.

Obviously, you can't prevent everything. People will have opinions that go against you, but hopefully you go into it a little smarter and having learned from past mistakes.

Adrian (CCC): Smart questions are the key to an effective conversation and engagement, particular in relation to current or potential activist attacks.

Capati (Spectrum): The level of analysis and tracking we can now do also plays a huge role here as we can see how conversations are evolving. We can get ahead of the curve a bit better and do a level of predictive modeling.

A lot of our clients work in science, whether it's science behind products or in the healthcare space. There are some specific challenges and opportunities in those particular spaces and we can do a level of mapping based on previous examples or cases. Taken further, if you just hone in on a particular space, there are precedents and things to learn from other types of issues that you can apply to your clients and say these are the key groups playing in that space. You can do a level of mapping to figure out the flow of information.

When we talk analytics, it's not just in terms of actually measuring results. A lot of times, we can preempt conversations or move things in a certain direction. 

Adrian (CCC): Not only can you look retrospectively to do the predictive analytics, we now also  have great tools to use in real time. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting this year, we tracked what was being talked about in live time, minute by minute. Community managers can look at what's being said and then counsel clients on the themes and issues right then and there. You can look back, look forward, and do it in real time.

Lang (Genentech): The proliferation of social media and connectivity allows everyone to have a voice. While some may see the potential for people to ridicule or attack a company as the primary dilemma, the bigger issue is the industry's own ability to engage in meaningful conversations and become a trusted member of a “social” community. 

Gone are the days of one-way marketing messages that speak more to a company than the people we serve. Frankly, if all you have to offer is a branded message, you probably don't deserve to be in the conversation. The key is to engage in a way that the people want to experience it. This requires a major behavior shift in the industry.

Perciballi (Everyday Health): I come at this from more of an observatory perspective, given the type of organization I represent. Our major dilemma is managing all the social chatter out there. Did you know, for example, that there are more than 2 million tweets a day related to health?

Everyday Health has a partnership with Twitter for health alerts. This combines the reach, data, and know-how of Twitter with geo-location targeting and the content we have on our channels. The merging of technology and communications can help companies do so much good.

Kaigler (Boston Scientific): As a corporation, we are close to the ground when it comes to social media. We are still learning so much. We just hired a VP of digital marketing. We have different businesses that use YouTube to great effect. Different businesses have Facebook pages, though we just launched our corporate Facebook page a few months ago.

When I joined the company two and a half years ago, we weren't even tweeting corporately at all. We do now, but must be careful with what we put out there because healthcare is a very highly regulated industry.

We also have the different regions around the world to consider. A product could be approved in one region, but not another. In turn, we would be able to tweet about a product in one region, but not the other. There are so many nuances for us to follow.

Capati (Spectrum): Some of the big pharma and medical-device companies can learn a lot from biotech, where some of the real innovation in social media is taking place. In biotech, they can do the corporate piece, as well as the product piece and the pipeline communications.

From a regulatory perspective, what can you say publicly through Twitter? The SEC now says you can actually disclose information through Twitter instead of a press release. That's game changing. There are companies such as Epizyme that are doing some really innovative work in the biotech space. They are talking about providing a corporate perspective with thought leadership and then going specifically into their pipelines and talking about the value of the science in a way that credentials the products and how they move forward.

Constructing the team
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
People with a strong base in science once dominated PR in this sector. However the makeup of all PR teams has changed dramatically to include individuals with varied skills. What constitutes the perfect healthcare communications team today?

Q&A: Transforming an industry

Prior to the roundtable, StartUp Health CEO Steven Krein spoke with PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid about the role entrepreneurs are playing to bring unprecedented innovation to the sector and the particularly prominent role social media can play in healthcare.

Gideon Fidelzeid: Talk a bit about what StartUp Health is and why you launched it.

Steven Krein: StartUp Health is a very unique platform for entrepreneurs building digital health and wellness companies. It is made up of three things.

One is a long-term academy for entrepreneurs, teaching them how to navigate the first three years of their startup. We also have a very robust network of partners, stakeholders, and investors – all the entities startups need to succeed and navigate in the healthcare space. Lastly, we put together an innovation fund to help make all of this free for startups so that in their earliest days – when cash is incredibly important and scarce – we provide a program that allows us to select the best of the best for scholarships into our program.

Our ultimate hope is to help startups navigate this bear of an industry that has really stopped most innovators from entering it over the last several decades. We wish to create a truly collaborative environment between small and large companies and avoid the breakdown in innovation that often occurs when these two types of organizations try to work together.

Fidelzeid: Can you speak a bit more about what StartUp Health offers the broader healthcare community?

Krein: The health and wellness industry is being completely reimagined by entrepreneurs right now. Our academy provides them with a three-year program, a curriculum, quarterly workshops, and summits where they come together with partners. It also provides large companies an opportunity to get involved with the earliest of early innovators who are trying to figure out how to navigate a particular part of an industry. Whether it's within hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, or large employers, there needed to be a way for a collaborative discussion to begin. Our academy provides that venue. Every 90 days, our entrepreneurs are getting together to collaborate with each other about what is and isn't working.

Fidelzeid: In past interviews, you have lamented how healthcare tends to lag behind other sectors when it comes to innovation.

Krein: From music to finance, news to travel, the Internet has transformed everything. The world is a completely different place now and everything has changed, except interaction with doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. The healthcare industry has just not been at all disrupted by change with technology. It tends to be an industry that is not only resistant to change, but you have government and large organizations that are both part of the problem and the solution.

Look at Joseph Schumpeter's Creative Destruction model. Every industry starts out as an emerging one. They grow, money flows, and then they become status industries. The key players who were part of the growth start to lag and then the industry goes into depletion. Lots of industries go into this mode and end up getting reinvented by entrepreneurs who have a spark of a new idea about the way things should or could be.

Just look at what Steve Jobs did with music or what people have done with news, finance, or travel. All these entrepreneur ventures have changed the leaders in these industries. In healthcare, though, the person who pays for the value is not the person who receives the value nor is he or she the person who approves the value. There are so many different stakeholders. The government is so integrated into this industry that you basically have the ability for everyone to say, “I'm not changing.” And they didn't.

With healthcare reform, however, what's happened over the last 30 years will not be the case over the next decade. We're living in an epic period where we will watch the entire industry change. The leaders will be different. The role every company plays will be different – the providers, the hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies.

The good news is that nobody knows what is and isn't going to work. In fact, the leaders who admit to not knowing are the ones who have the necessary curiosity to figure this out. They are also the ones who will be willing to work with entrepreneurs and their startups, all in an ultimate effort to re-imagine this industry.

Fidelzeid: Where does marketing and communications enter the equation for these startups?

Krein: I can't overstate the importance of that enough. It's something we talk about with our entrepreneurs all the time. To achieve business success, you need that awareness that will eventually lead to customers. An effective outreach strategy is absolutely necessary.

From mental health to aging to care coordination, life-changing innovations are happening now, thanks to entrepreneurs. And communicators are sitting in positions that could be very impactful to many people's lives if they can bridge that gap between their organizations and this early-stage innovation.

In addition, packaging and communication is part of every aspect of our program. We have a whole network of experts that have office hours with the entrepreneurs. We teach packaging. We talk to them about coming up with a logo, the design, and a message that will quickly highlight what is so valuable about their offering. New startups are so focused on the product or service – understandably so – the marketing aspect is often overlooked. As such, it's a major focus of our programs.

Fidelzeid: In an interview earlier this year you said, “The conditions are aligned unlike they've ever been [for healthcare transformation].” Why?

Krein: Healthcare reform is the instigator for people to not be as resistant as they have been. And by the way, it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's change – and entrepreneurs love change. In addition, an element of the Jobs Act that just went into effect allows startups to publicly announce and let others know through PR and marketing communications that they're raising money. Think about that. Large organizations will now know when some of the things that would never have been on their radar are out there trying to raise money. The startup that never could have gotten access to capital can now get half-a-million dollars to test their idea.

As a side note, I'd like to mention something I learned from an entrepreneur coach many years ago. It's this notion of being either a “batteries included” or “batteries not included” person. The former gives people energy. The latter sucks it away. Most entrepreneurs are the former and those are wonderful people to be around. The former create. The latter complain.

At StartUp Health, we're trying to find all of the batteries-included people and organizations that want to lean into this innovation. Additionally, we're looking to find the batteries-not-included people, not to change them, but to get them to move out of the way.

Fidelzeid: While social media plays a huge role in every sector, can you elaborate on the particularly prominent role it plays in healthcare?

Krein: It's changed everything. The flow used to be the pharmaceutical companies could dispense information to physicians and the doctors told you everything. Social media has allowed everyone to connect with both fellow sufferers and health professionals. And though I say “social media,” this conversation obviously includes mobile devices.

Of course there is danger if social media is not used properly. You very well could be informed incorrectly. In fact, another company I started called Organized Wisdom was created specifically because there was a huge gap between what doctors tell their patients and what patients find on the Web. Social media cannot replace the necessary collaboration between doctors and patients and between caregivers and family members. Social media is a great tool to help bridge gaps. In the healthcare sector, that is an incredibly powerful vehicle.

At the end of the day, social media and related technological tools can help people find someone else who had that same disease or another party who can get you answers to questions that you simply could not have discovered otherwise.

Mesara (AbbVie): I have two different perspectives around diversity in the talent pool. One, we're hiring more people from other countries. On my current team, I have someone from South Africa, Spain, Brazil, Australia, and, of course, great colleagues from the US.

In the US, you can do direct-to-consumer programs in healthcare. Outside the US, there are many countries where you can't. In those areas, you need to know how to get to consumers without going direct. You also need to account for the different regulatory bodies all over the world, such as the European Medicines Agency. When you go to Asia, you might have a product in the US with approval for certain indications, but in Japan you might have an extra indication. The way you communicate with agencies and with the public completely changes. You need global insight in your group.

The second piece around staffing is the increasing amount of hires we've made from non-healthcare companies. We have somebody from P&G on my team. We have colleagues who join from agencies who focus on consumer goods. They bring ideas to the table that force you to push the envelope and do things a bit differently in terms of strategies and channels.

Adrian (CCC): On the agency side, you live or die by thinking of things your clients don't. As such, you need diversity of thought and that falls right into integrated communications and not just thinking about one channel or in a silo. You need to be channel neutral, but you also need to bring in that business perspective. In fact, what we do can really be classified as “business communications.” That really captures the value of what we do and gives us a better seat at the table.

There's also the triple bottom line we all look at – social, corporate, and environmental. Really having that business mindset with all of those factors helps me counsel my clients.

I agree that people with consumer backgrounds are excellent additions to a healthcare team, especially as we broaden out into the health and wellness sector and take on more and more nontraditional clients that live in spaces tangentially related to health. Though somewhat challenged by the fact we are in such a heavily regulated industry, their fresh perspective is invaluable.

Though not a new concept, I'd also mention journalists here. Their writing is often impeccable and in today's world of brand journalism, people with that background infuse a whole different vibe into our work. A team of “cookie-cutter” PR pros just won't do anymore.

Lang (Genentech): There has never been as much readily available information in healthcare as there is now, so it remains vital to recruit people steeped in science who can separate the valuable information from the noise. However, more importantly, I seek people who can find the important connection among what appear to be disparate pieces of information and use it to push science and patient care forward.

For example, it's about taking a piece of data from a trial, an insight into a patient's experience, and a trend in healthcare to identify a connection that serves as an entrance into the conversation in which we should take part. Someone who can do that will have a successful career in health communications.

Johnson-Askew (Nestlé): On my team, there is a registered dietician who is working on a master's in public health. I have someone with an MBA, someone with a master's in public policy who is also a former journalist, another individual with a master's in public administration who came to us from Nickelodeon, and a graphic designer. In truth, when I think of the makeup of a perfect team, it's not about being multi-disciplinary, but rather trans-disciplinary.

A communications team comprising such diverse experience can't help but give you a unique perspective. In fact, the other day someone told me I sounded like a businessperson, not a communicator. Given what my role should be at a multinational company such as Nestlé, that was wonderful to hear and it's what everyone on my team should aspire to.

Kaigler (Boston Scientific): I'll actually look in the mirror. My background is all consumer – Reebok, Nintendo, Rockport. I came to Boston Scientific with zero experience in the medical device or healthcare arena, so I had a lot to learn. I was hired because of my consumer background. Better still, I wasn't put into a box and told that I couldn't do things. This company sought fresh ideas that they struggled to develop because they all worked under such high regulations.

One of my first tasks was to rebuild the communications department. While I certainly brought in people from the healthcare industry, I looked outside with many of my hires, too. The result: we are doing things the company has never done before. Even our legal department has often sought my input because we're working on things they never before came across that they have to approve now.

The CEO who hired me realized the healthcare industry was transitioning. Companies had to start communicating directly to consumers. We couldn't just reach out to doctors and healthcare professionals. The writing had to be done differently. There was a realization that we're communicating with people who live online and have increasing access to healthcare information – and we had to adjust outreach accordingly.

Simply put, we had to take some pages out of the consumer marketing playbook and add them to what we were doing.

Capati (Spectrum): We recently convened a panel where we some heads of the local universities spoke about how they have been reshaping their communications programs. When we were in school what we studied was very theoretical. Now it's swung the other way to be very practical. What we need more than anything, though, is critical thinking. You need people who can think on their feet and understand all of the client's needs, from sales goals to outcomes.

As we talk about communicating in the new world, we must take responsibility to find and mold the next generation of PR pros.

Mesara (AbbVie): Communicators have to work with other departments all the time. We can't allow ourselves to be thought of as merely the people who put messages together and roll out communications campaigns. We need to both be and build business leaders and create a presence where we need to be consulted on every aspect of the business. That plays right into how you staff your team and where you look to hire people.

Kaigler (Boston Scientific): My team recently went out on a road tour to all of our businesses around the country. A colleague in California said to me, “In the 17 years I've been at Boston Scientific, corporate communications has never done anything like this.” A simple thing such as reaching out to your team members goes far. On this tour we spoke about outreach tactics, many of which were never considered before. The businesses were hungry for it, too.

As a result, we now have monthly meetings where we discuss ways to support the different businesses in terms of how we communicate, whether about a product slated for approval or an upcoming trade show.

Perciballi (Everyday Health): I come from a very broad consumer background. I started in music, which definitely helps me think differently. And while health is our foremost focus – as it is for every company at this table – I also have to think about digital capabilities and innovations, mobile apps, tools, as well as business and corporate concerns.

Given that mandate, I need people who are versatile. I need staffers who can easily transition from talking to the business unit leaders within the organization to external audiences they might meet on a road tour. A healthcare communications team needs versatility.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in