Four Anticipated Trends In 2016
Reflecting on what we’ve seen and heard this past year worldwide, what are the most compelling issues that could likely gather steam in 2016 for which health care industry communicators should be mindful, if not proactive?
Perhaps the New Year will carry forward transformative change for pharma communicators and the industry itself to finally recognize that we’re competing and living in the health care business world, not singularly the drug or medical device or diagnostics category. (Just as locomotive trains are in the transportation business, not the railroad business.)
With that opening, here are four health industry communications storylines I expect we’ll see more of in 2016, some initially for worse and happily some for the better.
Will there be more “poster children” of greed?
- You know you have a big story when it involves “sex, lies and videotape.” Add 100 ml pharmaceutical industry, and it’s a proverbial runaway train. Thanks to Martin Shkreli, the recently arrested and deposed CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, many existing critics of our industry hold up Turing’s now infamous price gouging by 5,500% increase for generic Daraprim (pyrimethamine) as an example of pharma industry pricing run amok and exploiting patients’ vulnerability.
You might get away with this kind of inflation in Beverly Hills real estate, but in health care, people take it personally. They’re rightly offended and angered. To top it off, Mr. Turing shares his unabashed opinions while live-streaming on YouTube and “freestyles” his intimate desires in graphic detail on Twitter.
What’s tragic is that Mr. Shkreli has become the poster child of pharmaceutical company greed. We and our clients know that Turing is more a garish aberration than exception to the rule. The problem is that his extreme story relayed by mainstream media around the world further tarnishes the reputation of an industry intended to provide health care. The Shkreli episode only hardens public perceptions of the pharmaceutical industry as not caring for health at all, but as heartless and profit-enslaved.
The media world is waiting to pounce on the next bad actor in drug pricing, now that the road to hell in reputation has been paved by Mr. Shkreli.
But the good guys shouldn’t sit around as if our audiences were somehow still naïve to the new negative polarity of pharma. Healthcare PR agencies and pharma industry communicators should waste no time in underscoring the overwhelming good our industry provides. Beyond Mr. Shkreli, the news of major pharma mergers and acquisitions too often easily eclipse stories of innovation in medical science that should be our stock in trade. The pharmaceutical business needs to reshape its image as an industry focused on science, solutions and patient cooperation rather than one of profiteering.
Health care PR directors and firms who specialize in healthcare should recognize what a good global corporate citizen pharmaceutical firm must be: Continuously nurturing a relationship (with the public) that is built on recognizing the need to cost-effectively address poorly treated diseases and profound human suffering, as well as upgrading its responsibility to promote good health.
Healthcare PR firm counselors are well-positioned to encourage company leadership and clients to invest in change for the better; enhance their willingness to listen to different points of view of multi-cultural audiences and opponents; commit to act responsibly and do the right thing, even if such actions require newly convincing shareholders of long-term interests to the company.
And for heaven’s sake, present the face of an industry that is dedicated to responsible partnerships and behavior in patient care.
Make It About Real Need and Value, Not Price
- Another trend building up steam will be discussions around access to innovative and high cost treatments and the challenge of defining the best channels to conduct those conversations. Transparency and authenticity need to be front-of-mind in everything we do as communicators. As the pharmaceutical industry comes under further scrutiny around affordability of medicines, forthrightness about cost will be key.
Anyone in the health care PR business understands the heightened challenges to pharmaceutical industry traditional commercial models, and recognizes the demand for greater transparency in pricing. Although we innovate it does not mean that global audiences will hear and accept yesterday’s standard messaging of “new and improved.” Technologies do no good if they’re perceived as too expensive or indeed are inaccessible or produced by companies with little organizational reputation or presence or credibility in communities. Innovation may be a scary word to government payers.
Value messaging has the opportunity to move into the driver’s seat of the health care innovation vehicle. Drug industry sponsors who spend serious time and resources to underscore the real costs of poorly treated patient populations as they communicate about unmet needs in diseases will enjoy greater market access.
Most important, needy populations suffering from killing or debilitating diseases may receive earlier access to life-saving therapies that are demonstrated as cost-effective in a new context of real-world value.
I’ve Got 12 Seconds. Tell Me Everything I Need To Know.
- Tomorrow, audiences will read even less long-form media. Much less. Successful health care communicators must increasingly be able to effectively communicate in short bursts via text, social media and in particular, video must grow.
Also, communications professionals in 2016 should respect what we’ve learned since the dawn of mass media more than 100 years ago: You must not only address people’s needs for engaging and even entertaining communications, but you must attract attention in the first place. It’s still very much about making a big splash.
Predictions call for greater than two billion smartphone users in 2016, based on estimates from eMarketer. Health care communicators will need to engage audiences increasingly exclusively on their mobile devices. China and India rank far ahead as the biggest mobile users.
Although pharmaceutical marketing communications are highly regulated in all global markets, marketers who are bold enough to take calculated risks with new media forms, approaches, stakeholders, partners and messages are bound to receive more of the right kind of attention and desired response. Out of your pharma company’s comfort zone may = your target audience’s profound interest.
Mix Equal Parts Health Communications and Science. Measure and Share.
- Disease education and health promotion interventions may enjoy increasing attention based on actual field science demonstrations of effectiveness. While laboratory “high science” is classically the main driver of innovation, a new generation of smarter communicators is applying sophisticated scientific measurement tools to track simple behavioral change and measuring outcomes in developing nations.
An exciting, new prescription for measurable health improvement is taking place in Africa. The worthy example we’ve seen and which we’ve supported is the UK-based charity Development Media International (DMI).
DMI runs radio, television and mobile campaigns to change behaviors and improve lives in developing countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso and Mozambique. Recruiting and training people with non-traditional backgrounds as communicators, DMI designs and deploys targeted campaigns in mass scale in these developing nations.
DMI uses broadcasts in local language over mediums with mass access, via the appropriate medium for the right area, for example radio in Burkina Faso, not Twitter Western PR practitioners would plan. DMI is “conducting the first randomized controlled trial to demonstrate that mass media can cause behavior change” in reducing child mortality. Their interim findings are highly encouraging.
DMI constantly re-evaluates program progress, applying a scientific process to gauge and improve project success.
What can the rest of the world learn from this outstanding example of mixing science and simplicity to benefit people everywhere? Further support provided to NGOs such as DMI will help us all.
Wait for the trend. Or lead the trend.
Looking ahead at 2016, how will our leaders and companies behave and communicate who we really are; how will we present true value as principal players in health care, how effectively will we compete for attention, relevance and engagement; and how open-minded and novel can we be in applying the scientific process with equal zeal to simple interventions in health in all corners of the world?
We as health care communications professionals shouldn’t just sit at the crossroads of innovation and perception and making a difference in health care. Together we can pave the right direction.
@John J. Seng, Chair, GLOBALHealthPR