Marriage of healthcare & tech in Asia a huge opportunity: Melissa Waggener Zorkin

Agency head says WE Communications sees healthcare PR as the fastest-growing part of its business, and especially so in Asia-Pacific.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin

The rapid transformation of Asia’s healthcare landscape thanks to the leaps being made in technology mean the sector is ripe for innovative, socially-minded communications, said Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and president of WE Communications.

Speaking to PRWeek Asia, Waggener Zorkin said the opportunities for healthcare brands to connect with consumers through positive and engaging PR will only increase as more people get access to healthcare.

"It requires a different kind of communicating – transformational communications – that the healthcare industry is not a natural at. It’s used to communicating in a certain way, that’s usually quite prescriptive," she said.

"I love the way tech in healthcare is putting the power back to the individual. It switches a lot of conversations from just the cure area to what you can do to be healthy to begin with."

Across the region, WE is looking at several areas of the healthcare technology market from devices and managed care, to wearables and health IT. The agency’s predominant focus is on China, India and Southeast Asia.

"We look at this region as the huge driver of growth in all of our sectors. So against that backdrop, looking at the growth in global health, the growth in Asia is double, so there’s a huge opportunity," Waggener Zorkin said.

Shefali Srinivas, APAC director of healthcare at WE Communications, says brands are fast cottoning on to how technology is fundamentally altering how patients interact with the healthcare sector.

"Decision-making is much more diffuse; it’s no longer as simple as the physician prescribing the drug. As such, there are incredible opportunities for brands to tell transformative stories about health and healing," she said.

"Healthcare innovation is really being driven by Asia-Pacific right now simply because the demand is so huge and supply is not there yet. So many brands are coming up with so-called ‘frugal innovations’ and given the masses they can reach, the stories we can tell about those innovations give us a very rich playing field."

This democratisation of access to healthcare information means brands are increasingly using personal comms strategies to try and connect with potential consumers.

Waggener Zorkin said: "Telling the stories of those individual patients who have had their lives changed is happening on a much more regular basis. Brands are much more willing to put the person in front and the product behind."

This is something of a rapid sea change for Asia, Srinivas said, as people in various countries have been historically reticent to talk about their illnesses because of stigma issues, or engage with new medicines because of cultural barriers.

"Technology is breaking down these barriers by improving access. The non-invasive nature of new technologies, the fact that they are low cost, and being re-engineered for developing markets means more people are willing to try them," she said.  

"It used to be like pulling teeth to get people to talk about their conditions because of stigma. But now people are willing to do it, to share their stories on overcoming an illness, or managing a condition, and that’s the new message."

With approximately half of the APAC population still without access to any sort of essential medicine, the room for healthcare brands to grow and have a lasting, positive impact is huge, said Waggener Zorkin.

"For us it’s very exciting because there’s so much impact on the individual. Our number one investment as a company is Asia." 

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