The problem with patient communications  and why we need to solve it
By Polly Buckland, strategy director, Create Health []
Historically not a sector that changes at lightning speed, healthcare experienced a revolution in 2020. We have all learnt a lot along the way, but one thing it cemented for me in particular was how thirsty people are to have medical information at their fingertips, and be able to fully understand it. 
In a year where we all became familiar with the spherical ultrastructure of the Covid-19 virusmedical searches also spiked. That’s well reflected in the 2020 Google trends [], with three in five of the biggest search terms being healthrelated in both the UK and the US. 
Unfortunately, communications designed to give patients all the information needed haven’t adapted as quickly to this growing demand. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that patient comms are no longer fit for purpose, and  although Covid has brought this to the fore, if we don’t resolve them, the problems will continue for a long time after the vaccine roll-out. 
Making them low priority is a mistake 
Patient comms are always low on the list of priorities for healthcare brands, with their focuses elsewhere. However, this is a mistake. The odd poorly-designed leaflet isn’t cutting it in engaging with and supporting patients with the real help they need and are actively looking for. 

A study by Johnson & Johnson on eye health during the pandemic [] underlines this, with findings showing only half of people surveyed look to their eye doctors or primary care providers to inform them about the importance of eye health. This information isn’t routinely provided between eye examinations. 

Healthcare professionals need the support 
Recent research by Accenture [ that the majority of healthcare professionals (HCPs) feel that pharma companies don’t actually understand the real impact of Covid on their colleagues (57%), or their patients (51%).  

It also demonstrates  the  difficulty HCPs are facing when it comes to informing and educating their patients to take care of their own health (a must due to Covid restrictions) or manage conditions a healthcare professional might have previously helped with. 

Polly Buckland, strategy director, Create Health

The study shows their desire for more useful information to be provided to them by pharma companies so they can pass it on to patients. They’ve had a taste (“82% of HCPs say they have seen pharma companies change what they communicate about, delivering not just product information, but support”) but this now needs to be accelerated. 
Improved content for a virtual world 
Covid means sales reps can’t be out in the field and so we must find new ways (and reasons – we can’t happen to be in the area anymore) to communicate with healthcare professionals. That starts with finding ways to genuinely add value. 
That also means we need to empower healthcare professionals with easily digestible, clear and compelling materials and content they can pass on to their patients. They are feeling the care gap grow as they have less direct patient contact, and these materials need to genuinely be designed from a patient-first perspective. What they shouldn’t be is a watered-down version of the healthcare professional materials.  
Self-care in the Zoom age 
The same Google trends report showed searches for Zoom up in the top five, nestling amongst the health terms. And that’s very apt. Digital triage and appointments have become as routine as popping to the doctors used to be, even for older patients.  
We’ve got used to caring for ourselves more, when HCPs haven’t been able to see us in person. Be that diabetes or wound care. The Accenture research holds that around 1 in 5 HCPs expect even more self-care after Covid. 

This fits in with the longterm trends towards selfmanagement with the UK following suit with markets like the US where patients have greater responsibility for their own healthcare budgets This means patients will not only have greater say but also be required to manage their own conditions better, so patient comms will be even more important 

Good practice in patient communications needn’t be difficult or expensive, but it does need to be a focus. This is a vital time to think hard about how we can better serve patients at a point when they’re willing and able to take an active role in their own care.