Trust in healthcare is more important now than ever. After a year of failed attempts to curb the spread of the virus and political campaigns to discredit science, the public is struggling with who to trust and where to get credible information. How do we rebuild trust in 2021? In our minds, it all starts with communications — accurate, ethical and transparent communications.
Some of those communications must necessarily come from the Biden administration, which faces the arduous task of combating the virus and ensuring effective vaccine rollout. We can expect the first 100 days at the White House to focus on supporting underserved communities and the people most impacted by COVID while increasing transparency and access to quality care across the board.
Rebuilding trust does not just fall on the administration, however. It is an industry-wide endeavor that must be approached with sensitivity. Today, the public, the media and industry influencers are hungry to hear from healthcare innovators with a vision for how to improve our healthcare system. They will be looking for people with experience in the public option or federal subsidies and a plan to help carry out these visions for equity and change. This is where PR pros and communications professionals can help. As communicators, we have a responsibility to shape narratives ethically, source information accurately and ensure we never mislead the public.
How Healthcare Communications Changed in 2020
In the past year, healthcare PR pros have had to combat never-before-seen levels of healthcare misinformation. With distrust between brands, the news media and the public at an all-time high, we developed new strategies for communicating and building trust. One example is the greater emphasis placed on the credibility and credentials of spokespeople. With national media outlets building in-house medical teams, our clients’ spokespeople compete with trusted resources for airtime, so their credibility and unique insight into problems are even more essential to getting a foot in the door.
Another example is leveraging personal stories and platforms. The patient story – a first-person account showcasing how people have utilized healthcare innovation, as well as the benefits and challenges that patient experienced – has proven necessary in personifying the benefits of care innovations. These stories can be especially effective outside of mainstream media and top-tier outlets. Instagram stories, because of their intimacy and transparency, have helped build trust with our clients’ audiences, as have small articles placed in hyperlocal publications, which many readers trust more than national outlets.
In 2020, we also saw thought leaders leverage virtual platforms more strategically to build trust and rapport with consumers and influencers. For example, organizing virtual events, increasing social media utilization, entering into thoughtful sponsorships, distributing PSAs, and appearing on more podcasts as guests — or even starting a new podcast. We can expect these trends to continue even after the pandemic ends, especially given the convenience and ability to connect with other people through video. As communicators, it’s our job to ensure that the messages shared on clients’ virtual channels are accurate and truthful.
Predictions for the Year Ahead
The practices of PR and communications have forever changed as a result of 2020. In the same way, the healthcare industry itself will never be the same. COVID-19 brought to light inequities across the whole healthcare system. In 2021, healthcare companies will attempt to rebuild trust by addressing those inequities and improving the consumer experience. Stakeholders will want to know exactly what organizations are doing to support the social justice movement and create a more equitable system, so communicators should be prepared with answers that show they are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
This important step (from words to action) will likely be the hardest for companies, whether they are addressing inequity, combating the global pandemic or reimagining consumer experiences. This is the step where strategic communications can turn into an actionable roadmap. With the help of professional communicators and strategic consultants, healthcare companies can make good on their promises and turn a vision of change into reality. We have already helped many of our clients take this step and begin rebuilding public trust, and we look forward to doing more of this important work in 2021.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.