Five Ways COVID has Reshaped Health Care Communications

Throughout the past year, healthcare communicators have been working around the clock to share trusted information with patients and the public during the pandemic – all while navigating new ways of working. I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)’s Health Academy conference.

I joined panelists from across the industry for a session titled, “Point and Pivot: How Crisis Can Reshape Ways of Working”, including Pierce Nelson, VP Communications at the CDC Foundation; Ray Jordan, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Moderna; Kerting Baldwin, Director of Corporate Communications at Memorial Healthcare System; and Ken Inchausti, Senior Director, Corporate Communications at Novo Nordisk.

From our panel and beyond, here are a few takeaways for healthcare communicators:

1. Embrace new ways of working

We all need to be more agile and flexible because COVID-19 recovery won’t be linear, and the impacts will be long-lasting. Planning is essential, but we also need to be able to adapt to real time changes and feedback, as well as potential setbacks. On the internal side, communications teams often play a vital role in engaging remote teams and colleagues. Many folks started their roles during the pandemic, and it will be necessary to consider what is working well (and what isn’t) as we reopen.

2. Be transparent

Transparency was a key theme throughout the PRSA Health Academy conference. Across the industry, organizations from hospitals to pharmaceutical companies took steps to share more information than ever before in new ways. As communicators, we balance the need to provide real-time communications with the importance of accuracy. Access to trusted spokespeople, especially at the local level, is crucial to offsetting misinformation and connecting with the community.   

3. Mobilize strong crisis communications

Throughout the past year, most health care communications teams have been operating in crisis mode 24/7. We didn’t have time to plan for a global pandemic, but it has shown us the need to have robust processes and systems in place so that we are ready when disasters strike. Communicators also must take a broader view of how large-scale crises impact the industries around us. For example, many newsrooms adapted operations during the pandemic, which meant finding different ways to engage with media and working with new reporters.

4. Craft partnerships

One of the bright spots of the pandemic was seeing how organizations across the public, private and nonprofit sector banded together, rather than working in silos. Communicators should be asking themselves who their partners are and if there are opportunities to better leverage those partnerships to share resources and information. We shouldn’t overlook these vital relationships amidst traditional media or social media strategies.

5. Focus on cross-cultural communications

Another key theme of the conference was cross-cultural communications. As we think about partnerships, it’s essential to make sure we are thinking about who our audience is and what they need. Especially in times of crisis, this goes beyond simply translating materials. Healthcare communicators also have a responsibility to ensure content is culturally relevant and accessible, and to consider channel strategies that reach multicultural audiences.