What is Medical Public Relations?
Medical or healthcare public relations is simply the use of communications tools—such as press releases, social media accounts, and traditional media pieces—to spread a strategic message relevant to medicine or public health management. Although healthcare PR is defined as a subcategory of PR, and shows similarities to many other forms of PR, it also entails unique challenges and therefore calls for unique expertise. Rarely do communications plans in other sectors have the direct, widespread effect on people’s physical wellbeing that medical PR can have. This has been made abundantly clear in the past year and a half, of course, by the COVID-19 pandemic and the assorted messaging that government agencies have issued in their efforts to keep order and stop the spread.
The increased power of healthcare public relations compared to other PR implies an increased duty of precision and foresight. But never fear. We’re going to walk you through the basics of this niche, so that your next public relations campaign can reach the right people, convey the right message, and achieve the right result. Just what the doctor ordered!
How Healthcare PR has Influenced Patient Care
For a start, we should acknowledge the profound impact that healthcare PR campaigns have already had on healthcare consumer behavior. By using a suite of PR techniques to establish thought leadership in one or several specialties, medical facilities in the digital age are drawing patients from outside their practice areas; those patients usually sift through a number of options using narrow online searches before booking an appointment.
The days have passed when people, for lack of information, were more or less obliged to assume that one hospital, one doctor, was as good as the next. The ever-savvy, smartphone-brandishing consumer of 2021 devours testimonials, reviews, broadcast media placement, and other signals of distinction or trustworthiness, not just when seeking medical help but upon every occasion of consuming. The significance of this change for healthcare providers and public health entities is clear: either you come up with a medical PR plan, or your facility, practice, organization, etc., no matter how excellent, disappears from public view under a torrent of competing communications.
Top Benefits of Public Relations in Healthcare
But here’s the good news. Healthcare public relations does not have to be complicated to be effective, and it can bring about several benefits in the public’s relationship with you whether you’re a healthcare policymaker or provider. These benefits include:
Let’s get into those in more detail.
Whereas in strictly commercial contexts it might be a stretch to say mounting your PR campaign is a public service, with healthcare PR the line between public interest and commercial interest is blurrier. Healthcare PR, after all, often discusses medical developments, health problems, and health solutions that the public should know about. The opportunity for education inherent to this kind of PR makes it valuable for reasons beyond its impact on a company’s bottom line.
In a medical PR campaign you may choose a health problem or issue you deem pressing, synthesize the data that inform your position on the matter, and present recommendations to the public in a concise, potent way. Precisely how the public will receive your recommendations is unforeseeable (another lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic), but in any case through healthcare public relations you have a chance at promoting the welfare of a community through an educational communications strategy.
The medical realm abounds in arcane words, rituals, and philosophies. The layperson’s lack of access to these secrets may engender distrust, but healthcare public relations can restore public confidence in individual providers, medical techniques, or the healthcare system at large. Again, because medical PR messaging emphasizes unadorned language that will appeal to an audience without effort, a communications campaign has the power to break complicated points down to their essence and make healthcare consumers feel included in the conversation on their own terms.
Also, people may not trust your hospital or organization simply because they’re unaware of all the great things you’re doing! Opportunity missed! An experienced PR partner can prevent this by drawing attention to your contributions to the field, your clinical results, and other people’s positive opinions of your work all at once.
Healthcare public relations can bring people together by showing them that their lives are part of a larger tapestry. If you collect diverse patient experiences on a single platform like your blog, for example, or publish articles on health conditions that people struggle to find solid information about elsewhere, you can cultivate a sense of hope and togetherness that people tend to find compelling.
Healthcare Best Practices
With all that in mind, it’s time to discuss how you should approach your next medical PR endeavor. Our best practices for these types of campaigns are:
- Understand your audience and medium
- Engage press decision makers
- Localize your story
- Proofread before publishing
- Check for HIPAA and FDA compliance
Understand Your Audience and Medium
This is the first commandment of all PR, not just PR in medicine. Imagine a COVID-19 vaccine billboard that reads:
“Vaccine effectiveness in recent studies ranges from 88.8% (95% confidence interval 84.6-91.8) to…”
What good would such a billboard be? The audience, even if they understand the material presented and wish to engage with it, are busy driving! The content and the medium are completely mismatched for one thing, and for another the audience probably do not understand the material presented — and they certainly have no chance of getting there in a handful of seconds as they zoom past. The better you understand the people you’re speaking to, the better you’ll predict their emotional responses to what you’re putting out, and the sharper your decisions will be over the course of your healthcare public relations campaign.
Engage Press Decision Makers
If you’re trying to get a healthcare story featured in traditional media such as newspapers or broadcast, propose the story to reporters and producers, the people who will actually grant life to the content you want publicized. Getting your pitch as close as possible to the ultimate source of the message ensures that the impact of your pitch isn’t lost in translation. Maybe read other articles the reporter has written, or do research about their preferred audience, and weave that reconnaissance into your proposal.
Localize Your Story
It’s only natural that people respond more strongly to news that concerns them, their families, and their communities than to news from far afield. A story’s proximity to the reader’s own life can change it from an interesting abstraction to a deeply emotional issue. You can harness this rule in your medical PR campaign, by highlighting the aspects of your PR pieces that hit close to home for your audience. But this of course requires that you understand your audience first (see above).
Proofread Your Press Release Before Hitting Send
Especially when it comes to medical information, accuracy is key. The last thing you want when health is at stake is to mislead people, overstate a point, or misinterpret a piece of scientific evidence in the public eye. Make sure your healthcare public relations plan includes a proofreading step for every item you put out; this will keep your campaign on track and prevent a communications crisis.
Beware of HIPAA and FDA Rules
One wrinkle in healthcare public relations is the requirement of keeping provider and patient information private. The HIPAA Privacy Rule sets out safeguards against unauthorized disclosure that you will need to comply with in your medical PR pieces. Generally, material defined as “marketing” under HIPAA criteria will require more steps in advance of publication to stay on the right side of the law.
Schedule Your Free Consultation
Communications Strategy Group (CSG®) has a wealth of experience in healthcare public relations. If you want advice on a campaign you’re working on, or want to find out what a partnership with us might look like, reach out to us here.