#CommsAhead – 3

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected life for nearly every country worldwide. Across the globe, we see the impact of the lockdown clearly visible across all businesses and industrial sectors. In such times, the healthcare sector is at the epicenter of this unprecedented global crisis. As the world moves towards a new normal, there is no doubt that healthcare communicators are facing a set of challenges that will redefine communications for them. 

In lieu of this, Reputation Today Magazine and Adfactors PR organised the third edition of The Communicators’ Assembly Point on how Healthcare Communicators are navigating reputation in the post COVID era and how they plan to take communication ahead. The discussion, moderated by Noumaaan Qureshi, Healthcare Practice Lead at Adfactors PR, was graced by leaders from healthcare communication: Bhavna Singh, Senior Director, Communications, OPPI; Jasrita Dhir, Head of Brand, Marketing and CSR, Fortis Healthcare; Rufina Magline, Head of Communications for India and neighbouring countries, Roche Diagnostics and Manjira Sharma, Head of External Communications, Lupin. 

Is the end user in healthcare running ahead of the sector in terms of technology adoption?

Jasrita Dhir shared, “In a country as vast as India, there is no one answer to that question. In the metro cities, the consumers are definitely ahead”. She also adds that in these cities, consumers were already demanding e-consultations and the healthcare delivery sector was taking tentative steps as it was the need of the hour. However, digitalisation has not penetrated in other Tier II and Tier III cities. Jasrita Dhir also talked about the twin challenges posed by information asymmetry. Initially, there were a lot of fake news and myths that needed to be busted. In this respect, communication channels, especially social media of organisations were working on two levels: the policies that were shared by the government and at the same time, handling fake news. 

COVID: Opportunity to drive the quality narrative in healthcare?

“Diagnostics had always been in the backyards of discussions”, shared Rufina Magline. Pre-Covid, the discussions on diagnostics were very technical. However, post Covid19, conversations around diagnostics have become easier. “I believe the role of healthcare communications is simplifying the role of technology in healthcare. Establishing healthcare infrastructure is important in this regard, and this will certainly help us to fight the uncertain conditions in future. Now is the time to learn” adds Rufina Magline. 

Stakeholder expectations

Bhavna Singh shared, “With the Covid backdrop, the whole world is looking at healthcare with expectations. The pharmaceutical industry exists because of patients, and they are our primary stakeholders”. With COVID, stakeholders have realised the value of science and technology. Healthcare communicators touch millions of lives. Hence it is important to share stories of researchers that are fighting covid in their labs. These are stories of not just science, medical research and innovation, but of inspiration. Story of patient care is going to be redefined in the future. 

On the kind of changes the field communications can expect to foresee in the future, Manjira Sharma opined, “Leveraging the adoption of technology cannot be pushed away”. At the onset, its penetration in different cities may differ, but it is a reality. The doctor engagement cannot be replaced and will continue even in future. At the same time, virtual engagement platforms have increased, not just in the United States, but also in India. 

Communication opportunities that have opened up 

“During a crisis, it is in human nature to turn to authenticate sources of information”, shared Bhavna Singh. She adds, With digital, it is possible for healthcare communications to be personalised. Hence, it is an opportunity to use digital wisely. Most of the communication today is digital, and surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry was the last to adopt to the digital technology. But today, the sector has been able to channelise this technology to benefit the patients, and this has been a remarkable job.

Similarly, Jasrita Dhir shared, “With COVID, the value of healthcare providers has increased, and it has also bought to the fore the value of patient centricity. In such times, the collaborative effort between governments and private players, as well as the providers and the patients is important. For communicators it is important to inject positivity in a crisis lay off the fear psychosis in the society. “Healthcare is a responsibility to people, and not a privilege”, opined Rufina Magline. As such, healthcare cannot be seen opportunist, because we are in a rather dark phase. She adds, “We are in a space where people will see us as experts. And at that time, taking out a large campaign seems like a little insensitive. Hence, striking the right balance and sounding sensitive on what and how to communicate is important”. 

Manjira Sharma remarked, “This is a time to communicate more than ever. Covid is a healthcare crisis. It is imperative that we speak beyond the brand”. Bringing scientific temper is very important and at the same time we should also talk about other chronic ailments. Hospital access for these ailments has become limited. As healthcare practitioners, there is a need to be at the frontline to communicate these areas with not just the customers but also the leadership team. The need is to offer transparent hope.

Contextual listening 

On the importance of contextual listening, Rufina Magline said, “It is not only about today that we should be deliberating and discussing on. We should encourage people to talk about their tomorrow as well”. Preventive healthcare is important and today there is a lot of appetite to listen to it. It is important to not just listen but drive them to decision making to ease off the burden in people’s mind. Hence, “we should change the gears and make communication relevant for tomorrow as well”.

Similarly, Jasrita Dhir remarked, “A lot of organisations have stepped up on their social listening. It is because healthcare is the top of essential service pyramid. Today, Covid is the talk of the town, but ensuring safe passage to other non-covid patients is important as well. We should be listening and be responsive. We should be always available at any given point of time”. On the other hand, Bhavna Singh is of the view that there is a need to sensitise everybody about the fact that healthcare sector is not just one person. It is an ecosystem with patients at the center. “We not only need innovation in research but also in the right policies and infrastructure because every element has to work together. We need to remember that It is not the pandemic that will drive this change, but patient wellbeing that will define the new contours of the ecosystem”. 

Finally, Noumaan Qureshi steered the discussion towards the top priorities for healthcare professionals. To this, Bhavna remarked “For me, to sensitise patients and infuse positivity and hope is important”. Healthcare had always been a high touch industry, with lots of face to face communication. The new norm is digitalisation and, in this respect, building trust among the stakeholders is important. It is possible only if we collaborate with every member in the ecosystem.  Manjira Sharma adds that removing stigmas against Covid is residential areas is essential. 

Rufina Magline remarked, “Healthcare reputation is not a blackhole, and its reputation lies in the hands of healthcare communicators”. As a priority there is a need to continue the goodwill that healthcare has garnered in the last couple of days. To enhance the reputation of industry amongst the diverse stakeholders: doctors, patients and government. “We need innovative and sensitive ways of doing it”, she adds. 

To this, Jasrita Dhir rightfully remarked, “The numbers we need to celebrate are the stories of recovery. Also, it is important for communicators to lead the way as digital transformation officers for their organisations. Lastly, the collaboration between the government and private and between the provider and the patients need to become a way of life and not just a tactic to adopt during times of adversity.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Dikshita Kaushik
Dikshita Kaushik is a part of the Class of 2020 of PG Programme in PR and Corporate Communications at SCoRe, Mumbai. Hailing from from Golaghat, Assam the idea of communication has always intrigued her. After her education in International Studies, she chose to pursue Public Relations. She is a team player and an active learner. She can be reached at @Dikshita__ on Twitter and as Dikshita Kaushik on LinkedIn

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