'Patients, but people first' - finding the human side of healthcare

Natasha Tinston, head of healthcare at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Middle East, says never lose sight of the person or possibilities in communications.

Natasha Tinston, head of healthcare at Hill+Hnowlton Strategies Middle East, says as healthcare becomes more automated, communicators in our industry are faced with the all-important question: how do we speak to the human side of healthcare?
Natasha Tinston, head of healthcare at Hill+Hnowlton Strategies Middle East, says as healthcare becomes more automated, communicators in our industry are faced with the all-important question: how do we speak to the human side of healthcare?

We are at a crossroads in healthcare.

Every day we hear of new technologies and new breakthroughs, from patient-facing robots to virtual nursing assistants.

However, as healthcare becomes more automated, communicators in our industry are faced with the all-important question: how do we speak to the human side of healthcare?

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Never lose sight of the person or possibilities in communications. And when it comes to healthcare, whether it is a common cold or a complex rare disease, we are all patients, but, more importantly, we are people first. By telling purpose-driven stories with people at the core, campaigns can make sure that the human side of healthcare is never forgotten and have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

An example of this is Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH), a world-class paediatric hospital in London. Despite the highly specialised international care GOSH provides, its brand awareness in the GCC countries is relatively low when compared to its high-profile status in the UK.

H+K came up with the idea to partner with an initiative called Superhope to transform GOSH’s Emirati and Kuwaiti cancer patients between five and 14 years of age into their superhero alter egos to boost their positive mental attitude whilst undergoing cancer treatment at GOSH. Six young patients were asked, "If you were a superhero, how would you imagine yourself?". With the help of the global creative industry, the children’s answers were captured and sketched out their imagination onto a page. Unbeknown to the children, the drawings were being turned into costumes.

On the reveal day, the children were surprised with their bespoke costumes, as well as a professional photoshoot and their own concept CGI trailer shoot led by globally renowned talent. However, this costume wasn’t just a costume. This video shoot wasn’t just a video shoot. For them, it gave them the chance to remove their label of "patient" and feel not just like children again, but also the superheroes they imagined themselves to be.

This was also more than just a campaign. This was a chance to positively impact the lives of the six amazing and inspiring superheroes involved; all with their own unique story to tell. Parents and staff across the hospital praised the superpowered boost and new lease of determination and inspiration it gave these GOSH superheroes. One little girl even stayed in her superhero outfit for three weeks and wore it to all her appointments. It is because of this amazing impact that the campaign will run again at the hospital this year across more of GOSH’s wards; giving more children the chance to become their inner superhero and find their strength to go on and keep fighting.

Campaigns like this really help us uncover the full potential and power of communications.

Our job doesn’t stop at awareness. It is simply not enough any more to get a million Instagram likes or front-page headlines for our clients. It is our role to move people from awareness to positive action.

In order to put people first and make significant impact, we need to understand people. It may sound obvious, but through applying the principles of behavioural science to our work it helps us understand what it means to be human and how this affects our everyday decisions and actions.

Behavioural science, simply put, is the study of what we do, why we do it and how we can influence it. It can help us reach passive patients in psoriasis care, get people off the sofa and make healthy lifestyle changes much more effective, to significantly enhancing treatment adherence and getting people to take that brave step and get screened. From a single tweet to an integrated global strategy, it helps us tap into the human within.

As we go forwards in healthcare communications and embrace the new amazing technology which awaits us, I urge all communicators in our industry to remember these three words as their reality check: ‘People, not patients’. It’s our three-word reminder, our mindset, and a mandate that an illness or condition is not what defines a person. One day, each of us will be a patient and one day, we will love a patient. Patients are people first. And the human side of healthcare is vital.

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