Healthcare communicators must understand 'radical' shifts in industry: SPAG Asia

A new report details what PR agencies must be aware about in the face of transformation in the healthcare field.

Rapid digitisation and continually changing policies mean communicators must move fast. (┬ęShutterstock)
Rapid digitisation and continually changing policies mean communicators must move fast. (┬ęShutterstock)

The Asian healthcare industry has been growing sustainably, 12% faster than the rest of the world, said a new report by SPAG Asia, a healthcare PR agency based in Singapore and India.

And while the region has witnessed much development in the healthcare space, the sector has also been held back by low healthcare public sector spending, especially in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines, where spending is only between 1.1% and 3.8% of their GDP.

In many other economies in the region, there is a greater urgency regarding health socio-economic research as well as about investing in knowledge and collaboration to tailor global best practices to local cultural nuances and market requirements.

All of this has invariably changed consumer behaviour and communication around treatments. For instance, the role of healthcare communicators will move from strategic partners to "drivers of sustainable business".

"The communications function can now make its great leap forward by transitioning from being a channel for storytelling to getting under the skin of the stories they wish to tell, becoming active partners with the industry to deliver service-centric mass campaigns," the report said.

Businesses in the future will also seek to present a human face to their communications strategies and how these messages are delivered and perceived will be the difference between the winners and losers. This also means moving beyond the current focus on day-to-day projects.

On top of that, there will be a focus on adding strategic value to the client’s business goals consistently. While traditional PR strategies will stay, businesses will increasingly favour agencies that can provide audience insights, deep-sector experience, and are able to negotiate a highly regulated environment.

Here are some things healthcare communicators can do to keep up.

Localise without losing global messaging

The reach of a therapy could be global in its use and impact, but it could mean different things in the various continents or markets in the region. The idea is to tell stories that resonate with the end consumer, irrespective of geography or culture.

Healthcare PR agencies will be expected to stop using "language" and "culture" as barriers, but rather be expected to weave global practices with local nuances, innuendos, and values, even if it means connecting with consumers in a remote neighbourhood.

Jump on LinkedIn

According to the report, the healthcare industry is finally learning how to leverage LinkedIn and recognises it as a source of knowledge and talent.

According to a LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog: "Over the past several years, the number of healthcare professionals on LinkedIn and their use of the platform grew at an increasing rate. At the end of 2013, there were over 4.4 million healthcare practitioners, executives, channel followers, and opinion leaders on LinkedIn, a 30% increase in the last year alone."

Naturally, a platform like LinkedIn also allows for cross- geographical sharing from a corporate messaging perspective.

Understand local policy

Because of strict regulations and a rigid legal temperament in the healthcare industry, communicators must keep abreast with changing policies and how to navigate them to tell better stories.

"Healthcare communicators are expected to sift carefully through changing policy, finding a common ground for healthcare providers, industry, stakeholders and the patients," the report said.

For instance, the focus is shifting from treatment-led care to accessibility and affordability, and this is leading to a shift in the policy environment. Following this, healthcare communicators must sit at the centre of this change.

Think about integrated solutions

The healthcare industry is not exempted from integrated communications. Skills that will be increasingly valued include a high degree of practice specialisation (much greater than at present), dexterity with diverse tools, and research and cohort understanding.

While agencies may still be still be figuring out how to measure a campaign’s success using matrix and data analytics, the real success is in implementing integrated solutions where they can offer public affairs and media advocacy as a boutique solution.

"Integrated and multi-channel communication campaigns are already increasingly becoming the norm when it comes to healthcare campaigns. In Singapore, with an ever-shrinking pool of media outlets and even smaller number of healthcare writers, owned channels will become a key platform for companies to develop and house content to reach audiences," said Laura Faulkner, brand consultant at Activiste.

Don't forget about e-patients

As the Internet has become a tool for self-diagnosis, communicators will need to keep themselves updated about new digital platforms and how to optimally leverage them. Innovations like virtual assistants based on AI have entered the healthcare industry, consolidating data to allow for patient interactions.

"AR [means] a chatbot will be your first interaction with the company. We need right algorithms and the right information to make chatbots more efficient. VR-media-rich content and a more realistic image of our messaging are required," said Raymond Francis, head of communications, Asia Pacific, at Cardinal Health.

To submit news, comment, case studies or analysis to PRWeek Asia, email Surekha.Ragavan@haymarket.asia

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