How COVID-19 Has Changed Healthcare Communications

by Samantha Decker, Account Executive

As we enter the year 2022 and another COVID-19 surge, we are met with new public health measures, delayed office openings, a labor shortage and staff burnout amongst healthcare workers. The pandemic has forever changed the course of healthcare communications. All news has become breaking news and people are overwhelmed and mentally exhausted with the abundance of information constantly being fed to them.

More and more healthcare organizations have approached communications professionals for crisis management and that will only continue as we face new challenges of the pandemic together. The need to communicate in a mindful and honest way is more important than ever.

Information Overload

The onslaught of information around COVID-19, both reliable and unreliable, has made effective communications even more difficult. Healthcare has entered its own “new normal” as communication has become more streamlined than ever before. Messaging across all channels – public relations, marketing and advertising and digital engagement – is paramount as healthcare organizations work to provide up to date information about new COVID-19 findings, testing and vaccinations, and proactive health and safety for the patients, providers, and communities they serve. We must weed through false information, conspiracy theories, and general assumptions in order to be equipped with the communication tools to relay the information people need, and build support, credibility, and trust in the process.

Crisis Control

Crisis communication has always played an important role in healthcare, but the pandemic has showed how crucial it really is. More and more healthcare organizations have looked toward public relations professionals to help them manage communications, both internally and externally, and stay up to date on the rapidly changing environment we currently find ourselves in. We are all facing this pandemic together and it is critical that we are delivering information in a sensible and responsible way, while integrating complete transparency at the same time. Being upfront in delivering information is important but doing so through a humanistic approach is how you will reach the audiences you need to. This pandemic has uprooted our lives in more ways than we could have imagined, and it is our job as communication professionals to not lose sight of that and the lasting effects people must deal with day to day. Listening to your audience, engaging leadership and letting science guide the conversation will help you build a trusted brand and instill confidence in the population you serve.

Digital Demand

It is interesting to think about how this is the first global pandemic of the digital age. While social media has provided a platform for spreading misinformation, it has also become our best friend when it comes to pushing out accurate information in a timely and concise manner for the healthcare clients we serve. Social media has provided healthcare professionals with the tools to increase awareness of news and discoveries and engage and motivate the public when it comes to their health.

Some healthcare experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, have become household names through his steadfast leadership and his ability to reach audiences of all ages through social media. Fauci took to TikTok last summer to speak directly to young people, answering questions and dispelling myths about the vaccine. TikTok users with large followings joined the conversation and pushed the messaging to their followers in hopes of educating them and debunking the false narratives being spread about the vaccine. Social media has also allowed us a look inside the healthcare profession like we’ve never seen before – from personal videos of exhausted doctors venting after an extremely busy day in an overcrowded hospital to nurses posting photos of their physical problems related to the use of PPE after long shifts.

The increase in digital communications during the pandemic has also brought about more opportunity for virtual connection. Interviews with reporters that once took place over the phone have pivoted to video conferences, saving time and allowing for the opportunity to create or strengthen a relationship with a reporter. Virtual events have provided greater accessibility and removed barriers – financially and geographically – for attendees, while also allowing for more flexibility when it comes to scheduling.

Communications professionals have also taken on roles as educators, advocators and even innovators as we’ve worked with healthcare organizations to craft out-of-the-box strategies in the face of change. COVID-19 has reshaped every aspect of the healthcare world and we are continuing to adapt to the changes we face daily in the current media landscape to support the visions and values of the clients we serve.

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