12 July 2012
For someone who is technically (just!) born as a Gen Y, I'll admit it, I'm easily impressed. Every time I use the telephone to speak to my family back home in Ireland I am genuinely amazed by the fact that I'm holding a conversation with my parents 9,000 miles away in Dublin through a piece of plastic. So if you think that impresses me, you won't be surprised to hear that working in healthcare PR I'm blown away on a daily basis by the latest technological advance or new treatment.
The foundation of modern healthcare is based on science, innovation and development. Yet health practitioners and companies in the health world have been slow to embrace the greatest invention since that piece of plastic I mentioned earlier, the internet or more specifically, social media. While many other sectors have been quick to embrace the power of digital communications like music (when did you last buy a CD?) and the population have embraced social media at an unbelievable rate (my 82 grandmother is on Facebook, no joke!) the healthcare community have been slow to embrace digital communications. Why? Surely social media provides ample opportunity to deliver health messages to a wide audience?
Well I think Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, founder and CEO of Parents Know Best, might be onto something. He wrote an article in The Guardian on the "quiet revolution" in the way healthcare professionals communicate with patients.
"Advancements in technologies, the ubiquity of smartphone devices and social media mean that soon, patients may have all the information they need for a decision about their healthcare to be made.
While this new world might strike fear into the hearts of some health professionals, many we work with welcome it as an opportunity to compare themselves with other clinicians and engage patients around their treatment."
So why is there this fear? I think it's because as the good doctor refers to, digital communication fundamentally changes the way healthcare communications have taken place since the days of Florence Nightingale.
Most businesses have worked on the age-old model that the customer is always right. So when the digital revolution began, they were only too happy to accept customer feedback and change their business models to reflect their new customer. Companies augmented their bricks and mortar offering to house digital stores, changed practices based on social media feedback and used the platform to engage with their audiences.
For healthcare, the reality was slightly different. Since the advent of medicine, we had a model of the doctor/pharmacist/nurse imparting unquestionable advice.
Now we have patients armed with clinical papers, well-versed in the latest treatments or have had their symptoms screened through rigorous online discussion and research. It's no replacement for a clinician who's spent a decade studying the cause of that growth on our heel or the niggling pain in your shoulder but the internet has helped create informed patients who can work as partners in their own health.
This is obviously a shock to the system. 'Doctor knows best' has been replaced with 'Doctor knows more - but the patient has done their reading too' and this is a seismic shift in healthcare communications.
What does this mean for health organisations and groups? It presents a massive opportunity to engage with people eager for quick access to information, keen to manage their health in the same way they use digital and social media to manage their social lives, Christmas shopping or holiday planning.
We'll explore how this can happen in a later post, but the important thing to remember is the consumer has changed utterly and this will have its effect on health communications in the future.
Needless to say, I'm impressed.
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