Can communications save the health of the nation?

Eliciting behaviour change through healthcare campaigns is an increasingly prevalent parameter of success - and for good reason.

Can communications save the health of the nation? asks Siân Boisseau
Can communications save the health of the nation? asks Siân Boisseau
It has the potential to make a genuine difference to patient outcomes: saving the NHS money, GPs' time and – most importantly – making people live better and longer. 

And with evidence that changing health-related behaviours can have a major impact on some of the largest causes of mortality and morbidity, campaigns approached in this way can be the difference between a marketing box ticked and sustained change in a globally relevant disease.

This would be promising, were it not for the other factors at play within the pharmaceutical industry. Notoriously risk averse, many organisations would rather do nothing at all than do something that might not work. 

Convincing clients to invest in something so seemingly intangible as behaviour change can therefore be a struggle – particularly as both industry regulations and client budgets become tighter, and organisations grow ever more conscious of spending money wisely.

However, while behaviour change campaigns will always be a challenge, they needn’t be a gamble. 

Society today has a better knowledge of the human psyche than ever before. We have unprecedented insight into how people think and behave, and why we choose to make the decisions we do. ‘Instinctive’ responses can be objectively and scientifically measured. 

Emotion is no longer an unknowable force. This information should be everything to those of us working in the healthcare communications sector, but few agencies are using it to their clients’ best advantage.

Tantamount to an explanation of why patients do or don’t visit their GP, adhere to their medication regimen or become actively involved in the management of their condition, understanding the psychology behind patient decisions means there is no longer an excuse for creating campaigns that don’t work. 

This approach can not only bolster strategy and differentiate a brand, but also prevent you from going in the wrong direction entirely – because while you may not like to admit it, your instincts (and market research) will not always be right, and no amount of experience can make your subconscious be aligned with someone living with a chronic disease, or the carer supporting them.

By looking to the realm of psychology, a successful campaign can be identified before it has even begun. 

Insights may come from a myriad of sources, from psychoanalytical interviews and subconscious assessment to qualitative surveys and open forum testing. 

Either way, the concept is simple: recognise the underlying cause of behaviours and, in turn, you can develop the tools to address them. 

When you give people something you not only think they want, but something you know they need, you can bring about a genuinely meaningful response.

This is healthcare communications as it should be – creating a two-way, analytical dialogue with patients that gets to know the real reasons behind their actions, in order to make an informed decision about strategy and produce campaigns that actually make a difference.

Siân Boisseau is executive director of Golin Health

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