4 COVID-19 crisis lessons for healthcare communications

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The COVID crisis has had a disruptive effect across the healthcare communication industry writes Karen Winterhalter Managing Director of Onyx Health.

The has accelerated the pace of change across the sector, with digital communication becoming a fundamental feature of everyday life as never before. That coupled with the challenge of getting out stories in a news cycle that is clogged up by COVID-19 has required fresh thinking and new ideas.

As the lockdown restrictions begin to lift and the new normal starts to emerge, the current crisis has important lessons from a healthcare communication perspective.

Getting the messages right to deliver behaviour change

The Government’s lockdown messaging got off to a strong start with “Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Saves Lives”. These were clear, hard hitting, and effective, prompting one of the most unprecedented acts of civil obedience in our peacetime history. People were left in no doubt what they needed to do any why.

As the lockdown restrictions relaxed, the Government’s carefully crafted messaging unraveled. The new message “Stay Alert” seemed vague and unclear. Grouping a multitude of potential behavioural responses under a single phrase, lacked the same emotionally resonant call-to-action.

As we enter the “living with the virus” phase and the possibility of a second wave, we need to learn from this in future healthcare campaigns to develop clear, emotionally compelling calls-to-action.

A Digital counterattack to fake news

Social media was awash with misinformation during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak. From 5G related conspiracy theories to, fake cures and anti-vaccination propaganda, COVID-19 related fake news was spreading like wildfire across Twitter and Facebook.

To combat this, the NHS are working with these tech giants to prioritise access to official NHS guidance in search rankings, close false NHS accounts and use a blue verification tick for verified sources.

As healthcare communication professionals we have a vital  role in encouraging a “think before you share” approach to social media, promoting official government guidance, and using our access to industry experts to improve the quality of public debate.

Adopting digital by default communication

At a time when access to healthcare professionals is essential only, and normal service delivery is disrupted due to social distancing, the NHS have adopted digital solutions to bridge the communication gap.

NHSX are driving digital change across the health service with several initiatives like a WhatsApp COVID information services, tracking apps for patients to monitor conditions at home and a series of digital platforms for support referrals.

Healthcare companies have often been slow to embrace digital change. They will need to get increasingly tech savvy to adapt to the changing market conditions.

A revolution in digital communication

The COVID-19 crisis has been a communication game changer for the sector. The use of digital technology to combat the restrictions requires fresh thinking and something radically different.

Companies will need to get innovative by creating a new kind of digital experience. The latest advances in technology, and VR techniques provide companies the opportunity to offer a unique immersive digital experience to engage with their target audiences.

This has the potential to transcend the limitations of face to face events, offering a limitless creative space companies can continuously improve.

Using interactive digital technology has the potential to revolutionise healthcare communications beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Karen Winterhalter is Managing Director of Onyx Health.