If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our health is not something to take for granted, and that we are all patients and caregivers in some way.
For me, one of the most gratifying parts of a career in health communications is this intermingling of our day-to-day lives into the work we do for clients. Each of us brings our own lived experiences of being a patient, a caregiver, a healthcare consumer. And tapping into this is essential to building communications programs that truly help improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, communities and societies.
In recent years, our healthcare clients have made great strides in getting closer to the patient experience, resulting in better clinical trial designs, drug development strategies and patient support and public health programs. As health communicators, it’s our job to help our clients engage with people who have first-hand knowledge of the diseases and conditions they are addressing, and do it well. There are several best practices that guide our work in this space:
Seek diverse perspectives. We know that health conditions impact each person differently, and that many communities, including those of color, have long been underserved, disregarded and discriminated against in the healthcare system, vastly affecting their experience. When seeking input, we must ensure that diverse communities are represented, including people of differing age, ability, gender, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Use a mix of proven methods. Deploying a range of insight-generated activities enables us to attain a more complete picture of the patient experience and gives us critical cues on how and where to engage with our stakeholders. Robust social media listening helps zero-in on topics and trends of importance, which can then be more deeply explored through patient advisory boards, focus groups and in-depth interviews.
Create distinct spaces for caregivers. While it can be tempting to host a single patient and caregiver advisory board or focus group, to truly uncover the unique needs of caregivers, this important audience must be seen as distinct from the patients they support. Speaking openly about one’s fears, hopes and aspirations for a loved-one can only happen when they have a safe space to do so.
Enable colleagues to share their personal stories. Our team maintains an experience roster that not only includes professional background with conditions from Alzheimer’s to migraine to Zika virus, and everything in between, but it also enables team members to opt-in to share their personal understanding. Having this resource readily available allows us to quickly convene colleagues with relevant perspective to ask questions, brainstorm with and explore key ideas.
Start early and take action. Gaining patient and caregiver perspectives at the beginning of your journey will ensure these insights can be acted on as you shape your communications strategies and programs. It should never be a “tick the box” effort or a step that is sacrificed due to budget or timeline restrictions. By building this important step early into proposals and plans, we are able to gather and implement advice from patients and caregivers each and every time, resulting in more effective and impactful campaigns and programs.
Over the course of my career, and as a field, I believe we have greatly enhanced our ways of working with the goal of creating more effective communications, but it’s more important than ever that we stay focused and connected to the people we seek to help.
Maureen Byrne is a NYC-based Partner at Evoke KYNE, a health communications agency that uses insight, experience and creativity to advance health and wellbeing around the world.