Dec 5 2013
By Liz Rea and April Sciacchitano
2013 is coming to a close, and it’s been quite a year for health news and communication. A lot of great (and not so great) things happened in health this year, and we made it through the year despite the government breaking, er… shutting down. In case you missed it, here are our picks for the need-to-know moments of 2013.
16-year-old Jack Andraka opens news doors for cancer detection. With the help of Google and Wikipedia, Jack Andraka unveiled a simple test for detecting pancreatic cancer in 2012 that is 168 times faster, 400 times more sensitive and 26,000 times more economical than traditional tests. In 2013, the news spread about the test, which uses mesothelin as a marker to detect cancer, and talk of its vast potential began, with some hoping it can be modified to detect a multitude of cancers.
Boston hospitals responded swiftly to the marathon bombings, thanks to emergency preparedness.
In the wake of 9/11 and numerous natural disasters, Boston hospitals come together for an annual training to better prepare themselves for the unthinkable. When just that happened at the Boston Marathon this year, the hospitals were prepared, helping physicians and nurses save countless number of patients who needed immediate medical care. These drills have become standard in most cities, helping hospitals to work together, should disaster strike.
The Angelina Jolie Effect boosted genetic testing. In May, Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed, “My Medical Choice,” in the New York Times discussing her preventative double mastectomy she chose to have done after she learned she carried the BRCA1 gene. This gene increased her chances of developing breast cancer to 87 percent and ovarian cancer to 50 percent. After her announcement, which urged women to get take control of their health, physicians have seen an increase in women who want to be genetically tested to better understand their risks of developing cancer.
Coca-Cola repositions on a health and wellness platform. Diet Coke sales dipped in 2013, prompting the soda giant to test a new campaign, defending aspartame as a safe substance that will help fight obesity. The campaign’s launch came with quite a bit of resistance and didn’t quite make the splash Coke had hoped.
Healthcare.gov crashes is still not up and running. Although there were quite a few developments related to healthcare reform this year, our PR pick is the launch of Healthcare.gov. We still can’t decide whether or not it’s working, but you can bet PR teams everywhere are adding “website crash” to their crisis training manuals in 2014. A website has never stole the headlines in quite this way. Meanwhile, there’s a poor showing of interest in the new healthcare game plan – only 29,000 Americans have signed up for insurance via the website.
And, a preview of what to look out for in 2014:
What do Elmo and Michelle Obama have in common? A love for teaching kids the importance of eating their fruits and veggies! Over the next two years, the Sesame Street Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in conjunction with Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to help children (and parents) make better, healthier choices when it comes to food.
Unless you’ve been under a rock this year, you know these six picks are only the tip of the iceberg. What’s your pick for memorable PR moments of 2013?
Nov 7 2013
President Obama himself has called it “unacceptable,” and many call it embarrassing. It has inspired material on everything from Saturday Night Light to the CMA Awards. In fact, the IT chief in charge of the project announced his resignation this week and the future career of the secretary of health and human services is also in question. Regardless of which side you fall on, it’s safe to say the rollout of The Affordable Care Act’s health exchange has been anything but smooth.
Amidst a government shutdown, millions of Americans flocked to the reportedly open-for-business exchange, hoping to find affordable coverage, only to leave empty handed and frustrated. Government officials are blaming the $40 million project’s unexpected traffic volume for much of the site’s malfunctions. I’ll direct you to SNL for my initial response; however as a communication professional I can’t help but believe there’s more to the site’s rollout failure than heavy traffic. I do realize the exchange involves highly complex software and is much more intricate than your average microsite or website, making the stakes and room for error that much higher. Fortunately, there are four key lessons we can learn from the ACA’s website flop that will hopefully help us avoid similar fallouts on a project of any size.
HealthCare.gov is slowly rolling out improvements to make the site more user-friendly and effective. Don’t get me wrong, it has a ways to go, but only time will tell the true damage done by the failed rollout. As President Obama said, “the product is good,” but the way you package it can be just as important.
What lessons did you learn from the health exchange rollout? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
Image credit: Chattanooga Times Free Press
Oct 24 2013
Guest post by Liz Rea, Assistant Account Executive, PadillaCRT’s Health Practice
A man goes to Target to complain: his teenage daughter has recently been receiving coupons for pre-natal and baby care items. Long story short, the man ends up finding out his teenage daughter is, in fact, pregnant. But how did Target know before her own father? The answer: big data. Target tracked the buying habits of thousands of newly pregnant women and found many pregnant women bought fragrance-free lotions and soaps, vitamin supplements such as zinc, calcium and magnesium and cotton balls in early stages of pregnancy. This type of big data enables Target to guess a woman is pregnant and even estimate her due date based upon her purchasing habits.
Big data is a dream come true for retailers, but what are its benefits for healthcare providers? Prevention, early detection, trends among individuals with certain diseases, individualized care and more reliable research, to name a few.
Take, for example, Google Flu Trends, a site that tracks real-time flu outbreaks based on millions of searches around the world. In fact, data from these searches can track an outbreak 10 days before it is reported by the CDC. Imagine using big data to track patient habits or vitals (with something as simple as a wrist monitor) enabling us to predict when a person might have a heart attack before it even happens.
Big data can also be used to cut healthcare costs and increase patient satisfaction. Through tracking, analysts are starting to identify tests that are unnecessary or duplicated, based upon evidence from thousands of patients diagnosed in the past. One study estimates big data could save Americans $450 billion annually. Providers can use data to determine what services their patients need the most along with which programs to offer patients, which in turn increases customer loyalty and trust in the healthcare system.
Big data can offer healthcare providers an unsurpassed understanding of patient needs and can open doors to better prevent, detect and treat diseases. I recently attended the fall Virginia Society for Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations (VSHMPR) conference where speaker Daniel Fell, President, Neathawk Dubuque and Packett, offered 5 ways to develop the use of big data:
What other ways do you think big data will impact healthcare? How would you like to see your data used?
Oct 17 2013
You will never see a marketing plan without the words “raising awareness” in it. It’s the center of what we do, and there are people pulling the hours and working the relationships to bring that plan to life, masterminding every ad, news story and event. But despite carefully mapping out our path to public health nirvana, we’re not there yet. October is breast cancer awareness month, and we’re all wearing pink, but one-third of breast cancer diagnoses are made in late stages according to the CDC.
Why aren’t we aware yet?
Flavors of the month and dedicated days work great for media (National Trail Mix Day, anyone?), but we need to be high-impact communicators in order to strike a chord with consumers. Oversaturating the market with a health topic isn’t enough to get through to consumers. Less is more, if less is also more strategic. Instead of overextending news hooks, we need to find ways to be more real in engaging people: understanding where they are and how they view of our topic of interest. Ask some tough questions:
What’s even interesting about health? (Really?)
Health education and communication can be righteous work. What we have to communicate is important. It is what people Need to Know. We have to remember, however, that “needing to know” is less powerful than wanting to know, to see, to understand, to become.
If we serve people what they need to know, we’ll find ourselves in a small circle. We try to overcome that with patient stories – then we write, pitch and advertise from an individual perspective. Too often, that slice of life is turnkey: You were healthy, then you weren’t. It was tough, so you adjusted your life or you’re back to your regular life. Print.
We have to be good reporters and better writers. Take the most interesting thing you learn about a patient, and blow it out. Break formula. Check out the Well blog feature Faces of Breast Cancer: A Global Community for inspiration and to see how people tell their own stories – some are strikingly different from how the industry tends to tell them.
What about this health issue is universal?
It’s hard to make a health issue interesting without being a fear monger: this is interesting because you or someone you love could have a serious health issue one day. Thanks for joining our club for hypochondriacs, please confirm you used the sanitizer by the door when you checked in.
Instead of focusing on the negative, find what makes an issue universal. The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund did a great job with its “Dear 16-Year-Old Me” video, drawing over 6 million views.
This marketer never asked “how can we make a viral video for skin cancer awareness month?” Well, maybe they did – but they also asked the harder question about what about skin cancer everyone can relate to: most skin damage happens when you’re young. While the video doesn’t even get into that, the hook was enough to get people to spend more than 5 minutes to learn about skin cancer. It’s worth noting the doctor in the video was featured for less than a minute, and the brand, website and call to action are all held until the last 30 seconds of the video. This self-imposed restraint increased exposure. Be willing to make that trade-off in the work you do: four minutes of something interesting or entertaining for 30 seconds of your brand. Ultimately, it’s more impactful and more worth sharing than 10 tips to prevent skin cancer that are perfectly on message.
Who is my audience (and what are they doing today)?
Your audience is about more than DMAs and generational differences. We have the ability to hone in further and learn more about our audience than ever before, particularly in healthcare. Patients with diabetes face specific challenges, runners have a culture, cancer survivors have a community. Look for online communities related to these issues, and don’t just lurk, participate. Unfortunately, we’re leaning away from this, developing editorial calendars for social engagement that align with our awareness months. And, social platforms are making this easier for us – Twitter announced this week that advertisers can schedule tweets up to a year in advance.
A closer connection with patients and consumers is essential. Consider forming a focus group or advisory group to provide insights on an ongoing basis. You can also work with an agency to build a consumer panel for a specific health issue (call me!).
To take it even further than a patient profile or focus group, find out what’s impacting people right now, in real time. Brands have the advantage of total immersion and engagement with people via social media, and often they’re not using it to its fullest potential. Nothing replaces paying close attention. Looking at you, Tweet-Scheduler.
Oct 10 2013
When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008 (and re-elected in 2012), it was largely because of the efforts of Millennials, the generation of people who are approximately 18-34 years old. The impact of youth on these elections is well-known, but did you know that the President needs Millennials just as much now to ensure the success of his healthcare reform initiative? This time, he’s asking that Millennials vote with their DOLLARS instead of casting an election ballot.
The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “ObamaCare,” expands access to healthcare to all people through a variety of initiatives. One of them is to offer more affordable and accessible health insurance through online exchanges, which officially opened for business on October 1, 2013. As an incentive to participate, ObamaCare has established a “shared responsibility requirement” (aka a $95+ fine that will increase to $695+ in 2016) for anyone who does not obtain some form of health insurance. Now, here’s where the more than 19 million uninsured Millennials come in. According to Healthday.com, “Insuring young, healthy people helps balance out the risk of covering older, sicker adults. But if America’s 20- and 30-somethings don’t sign up, the fear is that premiums could spiral out of control.” If that happens, we’re essentially right back where we started.
The impact of Millennials on the success of ObamaCare really struck me, not only because I am a Millennial, but because PadillaCRT’s Debbie Myers and I have spoken extensively on the topic of communicating with Millennials. I thought, “Is there anything in our learnings that would help connect with Millennials and encourage them to get insured?” Below are three strategies to support Millennial enrollment in health exchanges, based upon our research:
In order to be successful, the administration is hoping to enroll approximately 2.7 million (or less than 15%) of uninsured Millennials in health exchanges. With the right strategy, it’s possible to get Millennials to embrace access and coverage for themselves – and their neighbors.
Sep 12 2013
Using Sociology 101 to Execute a Successful Teen Health Education Campaign
As summer officially draws to a close, it signals the end of lounging by the beach or pool and working on your tan. However, for more than 30 percent of Caucasian high school girls, tanned skin is a not just a summer phenomenon. With the help of a tanning bed, it’s part of their look year round. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the government agency’s concern for this growing problem that gives new meaning to the term “killer tan.” People younger than age 35 who participate in indoor tanning have a 75% higher risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
That’s why the CDC has included reducing indoor tanning among high school teens from more than 30% to 14% as part of its Healthy People 2020 objectives. This goal seems perfectly reasonable, but it is notoriously difficult to change teen behavior.
More than two years ago, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund introduced the powerful “Dear 16-Year-Old Me” video that went viral with over 6 million views. Surely, this video would have the ability to enact change. However, the research indicates otherwise.
Multiple studies of the effectiveness of alcohol, tobacco and drug use campaigns targeting teens have found that messages based on the long-term consequences of use had limited effect on the behavior of young people, even if presented in a credible way. Fear appeals and scare tactics caused teens to tune out the message, not believe it, or even do the opposite of the intended behavior because they like taking risks.
So, how can we communicate effectively to prevent teens from engaging in dangerous behaviors like indoor tanning? It’s time to think back to Sociology 101. Social norms. Campaigns that are successful in influencing behaviors, particularly those of teens, rely on changing perceptions of what is acceptable and desirable.
It’s important to note that tanned skinned hasn’t always been fashionable. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it was a sign of the working class. Greeks and Romans even used special treatments to lighten their skin. In the 1920s, a tan became a status symbol, because it symbolized the ability of the wealthy to travel somewhere warm and sunny, even in the dead of winter.
Can we change the positive association of a “healthy glow” with a tan by 2020? Utilizing lessons from a couple of campaigns that have impacted social norms, the CDC may have a chance.
We were all teens once (even if it feels like a LONG time ago), so we can remember that feeling of being invincible. By avoiding scare tactics and utilizing some of the basics of sociology in our communication strategies, we have the opportunity to break through to teens and impact risky behaviors like indoor tanning.
Aug 29 2013
Despite the consolidation in the healthcare industry, most healthcare providers are still focused on a local market – with local media. Maintaining a robust and proactive media relations program is critical for managing the reputation of a hospital or physician practice. However, the downsized staffs at media outlets and the diversification of media channels can make that challenging. Here are some tips to stay on top of your media game.
Become your own media outlet – We all know that in healthcare, online content is king. Younger consumers use Google and WebMD as a primary care source, and older consumers are spending ample time looking up their latest pain, or researching home care options, or searching for a specialist. The movement to online health information search is not limited to consumers. A University of Georgia study found that most journalism and communications graduates rely on digital forms of news. Reporters are online in social media platforms and looking at content to gather information and ideas for stories. You need to be there with them. Write your own stories, post interesting infographics, produce short videos with patients and consumers and send out recipes via social media. Connect with your local reporters via Facebook and Twitter where you can give them kudos for a story they covered, or comment on a local event. Reporters will find you if your content is interesting, relevant to the local market, timely and published consistently.