Why We’re All Health Communicators Now

July-August 2020
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Health care has long been a sub-specialty of public relations, but now, given the coronavirus pandemic, we have all become health communicators. Whether communicating with employees, clients or the media, on social media or anywhere else, we are talking about health care.

We’re informing employees how our organizations will help them stay healthy and what they need to do to protect others. We’re communicating with clients and customers about how our companies plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, new policies and practices they can expect from us. So what can we do in the weeks and months ahead?

Focus on facts.

As PRSA members, our Code of Ethics is rooted in honesty and our obligation to serve the public interest. We can share the perspectives of our organizations, but we have a responsibility to clearly distinguish opinion from fact.

And as always, we should make sure the facts we communicate come from reputable sources — which in the case of the coronavirus include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, as well as state and local health departments.

Demonstrate empathy.

As PR professionals, we have an obligation to help people feel heard and understood and to connect them to the things they need. We can empathize with one of the worst experiences of many people’s lives, and figure out how to support them.

And that requires research. Now’s the time to conduct surveys, digital focus groups, phone interviews and other means of gathering input to make sure our decisions are rooted in people’s real feelings, and not in our own assumptions.

Stay in crisis mode.

As states continue to reopen and businesses resume operations under the new normal, it might feel as though the coronavirus crisis has passed. But we need to recognize that many people still feel a sense of panic. Accordingly, we should remain in crisis mode ourselves. My favorite 4 R’s of crisis communications are Regret, Responsibility, Reform and Restitution.

Those principles mean expressing concern when a problem exists, even if you didn’t create it; taking responsibility for your role in addressing the problem for your publics; communicating how you will implement solutions and ensure the problem doesn’t happen again; and detailing how you intend to help those who’ve been affected by the problem. This approach provides a solid basis for COVID-19 communication.

Look to the future.

As newfound health communicators, we must live in both the present and the future. Like organizations on the forefront of research breakthroughs, we can imbue a spirit of innovation into our businesses and our communication.

We can’t promise people when the COVID-19 crisis will subside, what the recovery will look like or what its final costs will be. But we can tell them that we’re working to get there. We have the power to give people a hopeful narrative and help them believe a better tomorrow is coming.

photo credit: sewcream

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