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A Healthy Industry: The State of Health Care PR

Published on November 15, 2016, at 1:59 p.m.
by Amelia Neumeister.

When talking about public relations sectors, the main specialties thought about are technology, entertainment, sports, fashion and food. But one of the biggest sectors of the communications world is also the most often looked-over. Health care public relations can be found everywhere. From the insurance company to the hospital to medical schools, public relations and communications professionals work either in house or through an agency to keep audiences up to date on the latest news in the industry.

Health care PR is often forgotten about, even though health care is one of the largest industries in the world. Professionals in health care are often faced with the challenge of communicating with a wide range of audiences. One minute they are sending a press release out to a national newspaper, the next they are creating a brochure for a pediatric care center designed to inform parents.

According to the PRSA job center, people who specialize in health care public relations are in charge of handling internal and external communications for a health care facility. They interact with physicians, nurses, managers, administrators and patients, and therefore must have excellent communication skills. Some responsibilities include writing for internal publications and handling media calls, as well as writing and creating various materials that promote services offered at that facility. For practitioners who work directly with the doctors and patients, communication can be more fast-paced; for those working for agencies where they are on health care client accounts, work can be on a larger scale. No matter the situation, communication is essential to success.

August 22, 2014 Photos of a stethoscope, laptop, smartphone, and medical professional.
Photo by Daniel Sone

Without health care communications and PR professionals, information such as flu prevention, health and safety information, and the food pyramid could possibly be little-known information.

“Oftentimes, we’re the link between critical health information embedded in scientific studies and the public,” said Katie Cartwright, an account coordinator at Porter Novelli in Atlanta. “As we work to get our clients’ messages across, we’re shaping the way people view and manage their health.”

Cartwright also said that the most important part of communication in health care is ensuring that what’s being communicated is simple and easy to understand, while staying based in facts and science. For instance, a lot of health research is written in really dense, scientific language. It’s up to practitioners to communicate that information in a way that makes people understand and motivates them to take action.

Audience understanding of the message isn’t the only important task. It’s vital to a practitioner’s success to be able to customize how they communicate based on the receiving end.

“In a given day I can talk to a pharmacist, patient, health care provider, as well as the media, and each conversation requires me to communicate differently. Being able to know how to communicate with a patient is much different than how I would talk to a doctor,” said Sam Nadolski, account manager at Dodge Communications in Atlanta.

Photo by Ilmicrofono Oggiono
Photo by Ilmicrofono Oggiono

Cartwright puts herself into the shoes of her audience when creating messaging. This perspective helps her understand how the audience will receive, understand and respond to a message.

Johnson & Johnson’s 2002 campaign for Nursing’s Future can be viewed as an example of a great health care campaign. It drives awareness through multiple social channels, awareness through commercials of the kinds of nurses, as well as that males are prevalent in nursing. It drives awareness about nursing school, a career in nursing and why you should be a nurse. The campaign message reaches its audience without bombarding it.

Health care is just like any other industry, except that practitioners must be constantly learning faster than the rest of the world. Because policies are constantly changing — FDA guidelines, MACRA, Medicaid, Medicare, basic policies — practitioners need to be able to soak up that information in order to guide clients and be their trusted partner.

Nadolski also said that the most important thing is doing whatever needs to be done in order to share information with the audience. For example, Nadolski worked on a rare disease that had the same symptoms of dementia that doctors would only classify as dementia. After doing a webinar, the caregiver went back to her mother’s doctor and asked them to test for the rare orphan disease and turns out that is what the mother had. That saved her life.

Health care is huge, and public relations practitioners within the industry are vital to the success of the industry. Practitioners are responsible for communicating with doctors, patients and the public and often times are the key to understanding that information. Health care PR professionals are the silent stars of the industry working hard every day to keep their audiences healthy, safe and informed.

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