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Understanding the Misunderstood: Health Care Public Relations

Published on October 14, 2019, at 7:32 p.m.
by Justine Groeber.

As one of public relations’ biggest growth areas, health care PR generates over 15% of a member firm’s revenue. Oftentimes when one thinks of public relations, sports or entertainment PR comes to mind, while health care communications is often overlooked.

The ever-changing, fast-paced environment undoubtedly makes health care one of the most dynamic communication fields. More than that, health care public relations positively impacts the world around us by providing patients and health care providers with the information they need. Weber Shandwick Senior Associate Blair Martin emphasized that communicating awareness about drugs and diseases positively impacts patients, their loved ones, doctors, nurses and others.

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

Similarly, Wendy Dougherty, senior director of communications at Medtronic, said that health care public relations helps people have the right conversations with their physicians in order to get the best care. This is what allows health care PR professionals to realize the reach of their messaging — when public awareness and sales increase (DMN News).

The complex nature of health care sectors such as pharmaceuticals and medical technology may be what causes people to misunderstand these communication areas. With this being said, here is what you might not know about the lesser-known PR health care industry.

No background in health care is required.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no need for an extensive background in health care in order to start off in the industry. Dougherty stressed, “You need to have a passion and interest in it but the details you can learn through experience, reading, talking to people.”

While no background is necessary, Martin explained that professionals must be prepared to face a learning curve. “You have to be ready to be a sponge and soak it all in,” she explained. “When you’re servicing clients that directly impact the landscape of how our country and world are cared for and treated … you really have to be willing to listen and learn.”

Health care communication is just as creative as other sectors.
One common misconception about health care communication is that it’s not as creatively driven as other fields, due to rules and regulations. Dougherty disagreed, saying, “There is room to be creative but it’s a more strategic creativity that is required.”

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

In the health care industry, it is important to recognize that each target audience requires an individualized message that distributes the appropriate information to each one, according to DMN News. With pharmaceutical companies “pushing to be more creative, and as the people who counsel them, it is even more important for us to stay on top of our game in every creative aspect possible,” Martin said.

“The number one thing that you need to be able to do is create compelling content that drives your business objective,” Dougherty stated. This is where strategic creativity comes in: How can communications professionals talk about health care areas in new and exciting ways?

Health care work isn’t all black and white.
From the outside, it may seem that health care communication is very black and white, but it’s not. “Every day is never what you think it’s going to be,” Dougherty said.

Both Dougherty and Martin stressed that each day is a new and exciting challenge in their field. Not only does the constantly changing environment keep their jobs interesting, but knowing that the work they do makes a positive impact on the world is even more rewarding. “It’s really inspiring to work with people who are all working to communicate various issues that go on in our society,” Martin said.

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

While it’s not common to host an extravagant launch party for the newest medical breakthrough, it isn’t to say that health care doesn’t have these kinds of campaigns. Martin stated, “There are health care consumer campaigns — we see them all the time.” The senior associate specifically mentioned the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as one of the most popular campaigns of this kind. “When you’re getting so many people to do that kind of thing … that’s pretty cool,” she said.

Learning about health care communication produces a more holistic understanding of the diverse public relations industry. After comprehending health care PR, the complex nature of the information is a lot less intimidating. The work is rewarding and provides valuable information to patients, their loved ones, medical professionals and more.

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