Healthcare communications: The buzz of It

Healthcare comms has a role in tackling falling life expectancy in Western societies and creating a more joined-up care system.

Strategic comms has a role to play in preventative healthcare, argues Hannah Kapff
Strategic comms has a role to play in preventative healthcare, argues Hannah Kapff
During my years as a broadcast journalist, I was often told I should consider working in PR, but never felt it would offer the same level of satisfaction or buzz. 

But if you’re willing to get up at 3.30am to make breakfast news programming, you’re clearly someone who’ll jump through hoops to get it. 

Yet when the opportunity to work in healthcare comms came up, I jumped. Not only did it mean an end to a nocturnal existence, but also a move towards project work rather than throwing the day’s work in the recycling bin at the end of the day (not even so good as fish and chip wrapping).

Plus, of course, the adrenalin kick is there in the ‘live action’ of The Pitch.
I’d always found science and medicine sexy, particularly health. Being technical yet multi-factorial, in fact it’s not a million miles away from business news in requiring a broad understanding of the issues at stake, the ability to conduct detailed research and turn facts or news into interesting, meaningful content. 

But after nearly eight years in healthcare comms, and perhaps because I studied environmental science, I still feel frustrated by the fact health is viewed as separate to the environment in which we live, whereas the two are intimately intertwined. 

Take the UK: we are typical of a highly industrialised Western society in seeing obesity, diabetes, anxiety, loneliness and depression at epidemic levels, and life expectancy for many is now falling – despite sophisticated medical breakthroughs.

The interconnections between health and environment can be seen clearly in the care sector, which cannot operate without the NHS or vice versa. 

Indeed, failure to join them up properly led yet again to last winter’s hospitals crisis, and saw the distasteful term ‘bed blocker’ enter the media lexicon. 

When I think about ‘environment’, I am thinking of the planet, but also about the fact the 2011 census revealed a staggering four million old people living in their own home, with limited day-to-day activities due to a longstanding health condition or disability. 

This is a situation that is worsening fast. Hundreds lack basic – let alone compassionate – care, existing in splendid isolation amid ‘too busy to care’ communities. 

That said, the impact on family members can be profound: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found 15 per cent of UK over-fifties act as informal carers, despite the fact many are battling their own health problems. And all this despite the fact that ageing is, by definition, predictable.

Proper, joined-up thinking requires health prevention, which can be vastly cheaper than treatment. This is where education and strategic comms come in. 

On the whole, the will is there to improve the health of those most in need or at risk, but the right messages need to be targeted at the right audiences in motivating ways – not through ‘preaching’ or messages that are de-contextualised. 

I get a buzz when healthcare professionals start thinking about issues and solutions in different ways, and realising patients and the economy can both benefit from one option over another. 

I also enjoy communicating through periods of change. For sure, change is a given. And if nations can plan their hosting of the World Cup decades ahead, then surely our healthcare needs – and environment – can be planned for, too.

Hannah Kapff is a senior consultant at Road Communications

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