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Healthcare communications and the coronavirus: three do’s and three don’ts


Karen Winterhalter, Managing Director of Onyx Health in Newcastle, shares three essential do’s and don’ts for healthcare communications during the coronavirus pandemic. 


The COVID-19 outbreak in the UK represents the worst public health crisis in a generation and is set to dominate the news cycle for the foreseeable future.

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the healthcare communications industry. As a former nurse with over 30 years’ experience in the healthcare sector, I can see the unfolding events from a clinical and a communication perspective. 

Getting through this crisis involves staying safe, keeping positive and getting out the right messages. With that in mind, here are my three do’s and don’ts for healthcare communications during the COVID-19 crisis.


What to do

1. Be compassionate 

Compassion is key. During a time of national crisis, people want to hear from healthcare companies, as much as politicians and medical experts. Healthcare companies can play a vital role in supporting frontline services.

People want to hear positive stories about what healthcare companies are doing to help tackle Covid-19 by making a difference to the NHS and supporting healthcare workers. With fear and anxiety high, people want unique, uplifting stories for that feel-good moment.

2. Make your audience feel valued and in control 

It’s time to use simple language and drop the jargon. Making people feel at ease requires clear simple messages that resonate with the audience. We live in uncertain anxious times; people need to feel in control and digital technology can help make that happen.

When people are stuck inside going stir crazy during the lockdown, using digital tools to get your messages seen and heard is crucial. You can reach target audiences just as effectively with increased engagement and interactivity.

3. Develop a dialogue to cut through the isolation 

Part of making your audience feel valued is establishing a dialogue with them. One of the most precious things you can give another person is time and keeping that sense of social connectedness going during social distancing couldn’t more important.

The effective use of social media plays a pivotal role in creating this sense of online community. 


What not to do

1. Lay on COVID-19 messaging too thick

If you’ve got something interesting to say about the current crisis, then say it. But don’t just put stuff out there for the sake of it. That won’t wash and people won’t buy it. Keeping your content newsworthy, timely and relevant is critical.

Don’t risk getting drowned out in the noise of the unfolding crisis. Make sure you’ve got a strong news angle with genuinely interesting content that can cut through all the cacophony and get you noticed.

2. Be cynical and exploit the situation 

Your company may well have a contribution to make, but you must be sensitive to the situation. Looking like you’re trying to cynically exploit things for coverage will just make you appear callous.

It’s important to show the human side of your company, how it is being compassionate and caring to help those in need during uncertain times. We all need to pull together to get through this and your clients need to be part of that story. 

3. Jump into action without a plan 

Communicating without a plan during a crisis is blind. You’ll make more noise than impact and fail to reach the right people. Being strategic in the way you communicate is crucial to making your COVID-19 messages cut through.

Talking to everybody in the same way just doesn’t work. Your messages should be tailored to the platform and the target audience, so they can really make an impact.  


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