Meeting the comms challenge of 'putting patients first'

It's become a mantra lately: "As a company, we are committed to putting patients first."

It's become a mantra lately. When I talk to people working for healthcare-related companies, pretty much all believe and say the same thing: “As a company, we are committed to putting patients first.”

With so much recent news in our business, attention-grabbing headlines and personalities have often taken center stage ahead of patients — and this got me thinking. As healthcare communicators, we have the challenge of figuring out whether we are really putting patients first against a backdrop of tough legal, regulatory, and medical requirements, not to mention the pressure to hit certain metrics and goals.

We've all worked under so many restrictions for so many years that require we remain unemotional in how we present key issues, but we're still dealing with the most sensitive situations for patients, their families, and caregivers. These demands sometimes make it virtually impossible to get into our patients' mindsets and provide communications that truly deliver on what they and their caregivers need. We must find ways to have our actions match our honorable intentions.

What has changed is that patients have become important influencers and decision makers in their treatments, whether we like it or not. Of all healthcare company customers and stakeholders, it is patients' engagement and perceptions that have been most advanced by new information technologies. This access to knowledge can put the patient on nearly equal footing with clinicians in evaluating their choices of therapy.

What this means for communicators is that we are in a unique position to define and frame company stories. We can progress with empathy and understanding of the patient experience, while looking for new and unique ways to engage with patients. We need to be deliberate and clear - and always keep in mind that they are us and we are them.

It's critical to remember that the public, consumers, and patients are depending on us to help educate them and provide information they can use in a meaningful way. As a starting point, our tone is essential – we must speak in an honest, transparent, and empathetic way. Also, we must work with spokespeople, especially celebrities, who are authentic.

In terms of substance, we have to put ourselves in their shoes. More and more, they are their own source of information and are becoming their own advocates. We have to look at what information they need to change their behavior as it relates to improving their health, enhancing their treatments, and better embracing clinicians' advice.

Most importantly, we need to use the tools now available to us to speak with patients, not just to them. If we listen more, we can engage in better ways, drive more effective communications outcomes, and most importantly directly impact their health in a meaningful and positive way.

Wendy Lund is CEO of GCI Health.

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