“The pandemic has…brought us to a unique moment where we are learning at scale that data science and digital technology can improve human health in powerful ways.” – 26 Jan 2021, Vas Narasimhan Chief Executive Officer, Novartis.
While the healthcare industry has historically lagged other sectors in terms of its pace of digital transformation, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly expedited innovation across the sector. We’re seeing increasing consumer adoption of things like wearables, at-home lab tests, and telemedicine as well as significant advancements in AI and ML-infused diagnostics and cloud-based electronic health records (EHR) management. It is a time of great opportunity and disruption, and one that requires health tech companies to move swiftly and smartly to rise above the crowded space and engage the audiences that matter most.
Given that we are increasingly being asked for communications counsel for clients whose product innovations and services straddle industries and disciplines, we asked our four practice leads to share their perspectives on how health tech companies can most effectively capture attention and build reputation during this time.
Lisa Dini, Consumer Practice Lead
Communications must be patient-centric.
Before the pandemic there was a lot of conversation about how retail companies can give consumers choice as brick and mortar and e-commerce bounced back and forth in priority order or blended in unique ways. Today, it appears that story line for consumers not only applies to clothes, groceries, and home goods, it is now true for how patients behave as consumers of healthcare.
As the world opens, it seems that both in-person visits and telehealth appointments are here to stay. Healthcare companies will need to continue to track people’s preferences, which likely will be based on everything from return to office policies to the conditions they are seeking treatment for, and continue to innovate and adjust accordingly.
The opportunity for communicators in this case is to show patients that companies care. That you can put technology solutions in place to make their lives easier and improve their standard of care, and explain the benefits to the patient, not brag about the technology advancements. You also can show that with the data collected through online solutions, the goal is to improve life offline.
Michelle Maggs, Technology Practice Lead
Communications must be data-fueled.
Data-driven storytelling continues to emerge as a key tactic for communications – leveraging an organization’s data to uncover interesting nuggets that are newsworthy. During the pandemic, appetite for data-backed content, data visualizations and analysis of the numbers was insatiable. Everywhere you turned – in media, on social platforms – you came across animated graphs on the latest COVID-19 infection rates, with the most effective data stories combining visuals with thoughtful translation of what the numbers meant and/or actions you could take to mitigate the spread. These forms of data-fueled communications were used to educate and inform, demonstrate thought leadership, combat misinformation, and persuade people to act.
For health tech companies, data storytelling is an important strategy for validating a product or service and demonstrating its effectiveness. As you consider your communications strategy, ask how data plays a role in the narrative you’re trying to land:
Renee Austin, Corporate Practice Lead
Communications must be equity driven.
Human ingenuity and innovation are best borne out of societal need. When faced with the deadliest pandemic in years, the healthcare industry responded by quickly evolving, especially with technology. However, we’ve been talking about health inequities and social determinants of health for years, yet COVID-19 laid bare that we still have very far to go.
The American Journal of Managed Care defines vulnerable populations as “the economically disadvantaged, racial and ethnic minorities, the uninsured, low-income children, the elderly, the homeless, those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and those with other chronic health conditions” like diabetes, heart disease and mental illness. What can we learn from the pandemic to apply to these other epidemics threatening our world?
The healthcare industry must continue developing technology quickly to create fast and long-lasting innovations, while also considering how to get these life-changing technologies into the hands of the people who need them most. Regulatory bodies must have the same sense of urgency for other health conditions outside of COVID. Payers and providers must understand the life-changing impact of these technologies and why they must be affordable.
Many of the leading-edge, health-tech innovations in play today are for the elite. When it comes to health-tech solutions that lengthen and strengthen lives, they must be affordable, accessible, and available for all. The fast-growing industry of health-tech must help remove these barriers to ensure that the latest and greatest technologies are for the many, not the few. How do we get there, and how can health-tech companies lead the way?
Jacelyn Seng, Healthcare Practice Lead
Communications must be rigorous.
The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the urgency for diagnostics, therapeutics and prophylactics amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, fear and mortality. Across the healthcare industry, the urge to speed up the research and development process is strong. At the same time, the potentially wide impact of any COVID-19-related FDA approval wields significant influence and impact.
Now, more so than ever, it is paramount to preserve the integrity and rigor of the scientific assessment of innovative products and to increase the transparency of the decision-making process. Companies, institutions and partners face a less trodden path in health tech development and regulatory processes than their counterparts in the pharmaceutical and biotech fields. Even more reason to set a high bar to engender trust and build credibility.
Along with the potential for connectivity in health tech to monitor, inform, diagnose, and treat comes the critical responsibility to handle the information collected with care. While many companies approach data integrity and ethics from an “issues management” perspective, the responsible health tech practitioner understands the value of upholding the ethical use of data as a cornerstone of its corporate social responsibility and sustainability principles. What information does your organization collect, and how might you apply ethics and integrity to communicating its use?
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