When India first encountered the threat of HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s, health experts were highly concerned about the potential of the spread of this deadly virus in a poorly-aware, densely-populated country like India. Doomsday predictors foresaw India to be the next Africa where HIV/AIDS had already assumed epidemic proportions. However, three decades later, a highly successful multi-pronged anti-AIDS campaign supported by a massive awareness drive has succeeded in substantially reducing the number of new infections. Even as several health organizations worked on the ground to mitigate the threat, India’s public broadcasters were flush with awareness messages about HIV/AIDS and the need for safe sex and safe blood transfusions all through the 1990s and 2000s. The number of new HIV infections witnessed a 50% decline in India over the past decade. No other example can better underline the important role of effective healthcare communication in meeting multiple needs of our times.
Health communication today is a dedicated public relations specialty helmed by experts and communication veterans who know what it takes to effectively send out the right messages to an audience which is more discerning and aware than ever before. Health communication uses available tools of media and communication to raise awareness on public health concerns, improves general literacy of common people about pertinent healthcare challenges, and influences attitudes and behavioral choices towards healthier lifestyles. From the corporate perspective, health communication is today a leading part of brand identity building.
With the customers becoming more aware and evolved, the challenges of healthcare communication become more vigorous and unique. Your messaging has to be tailored to meet the needs of a more intelligent audience who wouldn’t like to have unappealing information shoved up their throats. Research tells us that messages hidden in intelligent communication patterns have a more lasting impact on the minds of consumers. Consumers today are not only more intelligent and discerning, they also want to have greater control over their lives, including their healthcare choices. This offers another unique challenge as well as opportunity for healthcare communication providers.
In an evolving communication environment, healthcare communication doesn’t just play the role of information sharing, rather it plays multifarious roles:
Influencing consumer attitudes: Healthcare communication has an important role to play today in driving a change in behavioral patterns of the consumer towards healthier lifestyle choices. This includes aspects such as raising awareness about the devastating health effects of sedentary lifestyles and thereby pushing the audience to adopt a shift towards healthy living; educating consumers about the need for regular preventive health screenings and bringing about a behavioral shift towards preventive health check-ups; raising awareness about the risks of smoking, and helping consumers kick the butt. However, consumer behaviors do not change overnight! They need an incessant dose of messaging to internalize the change. Healthcare communicators do so not by hammering in the points but by driving a gradual change through regular subtle messaging that is neither over the top nor in your face. The messages that have the best impact are the ones that are intelligently hidden in impactful heart-touching stories.
Driving demand and creating customer base: One by product of influencing consumer behavior is the creating of demand for a particular set of healthcare services. Doctors and hospitals are not the only healthcare delivery providers today. In recent years, the concept of healthcare delivery has evolved to become more personalized, digitally-driven and tailored to improve comfort and quality of life of consumers. Facilities such as home healthcare, home monitoring of health vitals and activity tracking devices are examples of how multiple players have entered the healthcare domain to improve efficiency, comfort and add a general wellness quotient to health. Healthcare today is not just about treating diseases, it is about promoting an overall healthy lifestyle. Therefore, health communicators have a prominent role to play in informing the consumer about the new facilities and services they can use of.
Advocating on policy issues: Corporate organizations often have interest in advocating on key policy issues that may impact their future or have a large social bearing. The reasons for this interest may vary from business reasons to ethical considerations. Here again lies an important role for health communicators. Right and impactful messaging can help influence authorities and drive policy changes as well. Delhi’s poor air quality has been a subject of intense debate and discussion in recent years, especially over the past few months, and for the first time there are visible efforts being made by government agencies to improve the environment. Much of it can be attributed to the subtle but important role played by healthcare communicators (acting on behalf of multiple agencies) in making this an issue of serious public health concern.
Building brand identity: Building a brand identify takes several years of effective multi-pronged strategies. One of the most vital pillars of this strategy is effective communication. Healthcare providers or key players in the healthcare industry such as hospitals, product and service providers know that brand building does not happen overnight. Your identity is strengthened step by step, one brick at a time. Healthcare communicators achieve this through multiple simultaneous approaches which may include all of the aforementioned pointers and more — increasing awareness about common healthcare issues, building your image as a reliable service provider, influencing consumer behavior towards using your product and helping portray you as a key industry leader through advocacy and opinion-building.
The above article is authored by Nikky Gupta, Co-founder and Director Teamwork Communications Group