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SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 //     

Building Brand Leadership in a Complex Healthcare Environment

By: Brian Brokowski 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous transformation and turmoil in the healthcare industry.

In 2020, hospitals, clinical care facilities, community-based organizations and the private sector have all shown remarkable efforts to rise to the challenge. The advancements of treatments, the acceleration of digital and telehealth technologies, public and private sector collaborations, and most of all the heroic efforts of those on the front lines have been at the foundation of the industry’s response to this unprecedented crisis. 

This all happened concurrently with a major industry expansion and shifting demographics, which drive increased needs for care. Sixty years ago, healthcare was just 5% of the total economy. Today it represents nearly 20% (Brookings).

As the population ages, this growth will only continue. Since 2011, nearly 10,000 people a day have been enrolled in Medicare. This rate is expected to continue through 2030, when more than 80 million total enrollees are forecasted – a 20% increase over today’s total (MedPac).  And according to the National Council on Aging, about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68% have at least two. 

Advancements in telehealth and other areas during the COVID-19 response will forever positively change many aspects of healthcare. This will leave us better prepared not only for the next pandemic, but for the major public health issues that existed before COVID-19 and will persist long into the future.

Yet, the sector faces a highly complex web of impacts and challenges that stretch well beyond the pandemic and current headlines. Today’s news cycles have followed a predictable pattern. First, the effort response to flattening the curve and meeting demand for critical PPE and respiratory devices dominated coverage. Now, the race for the vaccine captures the narrative. 

But beyond the headlines, the reality is the pandemic has also further strained many weaknesses already evident in our healthcare system and gave rise to new challenges. A number of very real, systemic challenges in healthcare create an undercurrent of turmoil that will impact the healthcare industry for years to come.

These issues include:

  • The response to COVID-19 has revealed significant racial and economic inequities in our healthcare system. Social determinants of care and the impacts of systemic racism on public health have emerged as key long overdue issues to be solved.
  • Lockdowns on non-essential services and subsequent slowdown in non-emergency care has created significant financial strains on the sector that are expected to linger well beyond peak COVID-19.
  • Longer-term impacts of delayed primary care on vulnerable populations – particularly seniors, the poor and racial minorities – threaten to exacerbate chronic health issues.
  • Rural access to healthcare amid increasing hospital closures and reduction of services.
  • Delays in care outside of COVID-19, leading to a predicted excess of tens of thousands of cancer deaths over the next decade as a result of missed screenings, delays in diagnosis and reductions in oncology care caused by the pandemic.
  • Continuing/increasing concerns about patient privacy and data ownership amid increased use of telemedicine/connected health.
  • Outdated regulatory and reimbursement frameworks on telemedicine and connected health standing as barriers to increased adoption.
  • The continued challenges of achieving true interoperability between healthcare providers, systems, technology and the information they need to achieve the best outcomes for patients.
  • The ability of services to scale to meet the needs of an aging population.

For healthcare organizations communicating in today’s environment, building and preserving brand reputation and relationships with patients, customers and the public will increasingly be contingent on marrying words with actions and the ability to link the organization’s efforts with real solutions to these existing and emerging challenges.   

The world seeks leadership in healthcare – not just those who conduct business as usual, or those who merely talk about meeting these challenges. The opportunity exists for healthcare organizations of all types to step up and take a leadership role and effectively build brand affinity, credibility and respect among their key audiences. This will truly make a difference in helping move healthcare forward into a new era of access, efficiency and quality of care. 

Among the strategies we see as helping healthcare organizations stand out: 

  • Stake a position and be a leader in driving change: Align your service, showcase product or technology innovations with today’s emergent challenges and be clear about how your organization helps to address and/or improve quality of or access to care. Lead through action and let the communications follow – not just during COVID-19 but beyond.
  • Engage employees: Employees and care providers are your greatest advocates and resources. Whether it’s aligned with racial justice and access-to-care issues or as the leaders innovating new technologies and innovations that transform care, engage and include employees as part of the solution.
  • Harness patient and customer stories: Now is the time to let your patients and customers tell their stories – and yours. Create a library of testimonials and a resource of advocates and use them in your internal and external communications to give your brand an authentic voice. In particular, amplify underrepresented voices – those who have been lost in the system.
  • Evaluate partnerships: Review any current community and/or business partnerships. Are they still relevant in today’s environment? Do they make an impact – help support organizational/business goals while driving meaningful change within the entire community?
  • Communicate across channels: The media environment is challenging. Healthcare media are largely focused on the vaccine and election issues, and it can be difficult to get an alternative story told. Evaluate social and content strategies and test new ways of using owned and paid channels as opportunities to communicate with your key audiences. 

There are opportunities abound for leadership in healthcare. But for organizations that want to stand out, action must support words. Building a strong brand and affinity with key audiences will come from driving real changes and showing how those changes improve access and quality of care, driving beyond the headlines to create lasting improvements that endure long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’d like to learn more about our expertise in healthcare, visit here or get in touch

Brian is the General Manager of Allison+Partners San Diego office.  Brian has more than 25 years of experience building and protecting brands across a range of industries, with an emphasis on health care.  Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic he has counseled clients in the health care industry regarding their proactive and reactive communications in light of the rapidly evolving media, public policy and regulatory landscape.

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