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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Getting the balance right

The new normal for UK healthcare comms

When it comes to returning to the office, current rhetoric would suggest that this will not be as it was before.

The ‘working from home’ genie is now fully out of the bottle with employee surveys showing only a small percentage want to go back to the office full time, with the vast majority wanting either to stay working from home or to work in a more hybrid model with a couple of office days a week, or as needed for meetings.

With productivity so far believed to have stayed strong during lockdown, only time will confirm if this desire and level of productivity will be maintained longer term. There are clearly real benefits to this potential new normal, such as enhanced employee satisfaction through improved work/life balance. Less commuting also offers a more global environmental benefit and if there is one thing the pandemic has given us which we should grasp with both hands, it’s the opportunity to take a step change in addressing issues related to climate change.

In the longer term, businesses may be able to make cost savings with smaller real estate requirements, although short term this will be affected by existing leases and considerations of additional costs of implementing an ongoing hybrid model (eg, IT infrastructure and equipment for home use). There will also be many management challenges in the changed modus operandi, but with various examples where organisations are already making this model work, these are clearly not insurmountable.

Virtual is here to stay

Most people seem to miss and want to get back to a scenario where networking face-to-face returns. It therefore does not feel like the days of face-to-face medical congresses or networking meetings are over. However, it has now been demonstrated, and all have experienced, the ability to successfully work virtually.

Surely, the cost, time saving and reduced environmental impact alone of, for example, a transatlantic flight for a one-day meeting or pitch, will mean in our reboot there will now be greater discretion in terms of which meetings are held face-to-face and which are held virtually. Certainly, many are saying they believe the virtual pitch is now very much part of our raison d’être and not just a lockdown inconvenience.

Even our traditional medical congresses may reset in a format different from the one we are used to, and we will need to adapt accordingly. Will we see these become hybrid with attendees on-site to benefit from networking connections that only occur in that environment, while others engage live from their offices?

Our work at the HCA is a microcosm of this. Our move to all virtual meetings and CPD courses, although on a forced timescale, was already part of our ongoing strategy to more effectively engage with our geographically distant members, help utilise their time more efficiently and, of course, reduce the environmental impact of all that travel. We will still hold some face-to-face when this is again possible, including an annual conference, but the virtual events and courses will now be very much an established part of our new normal.

Health is in the spotlight I have highlighted in previous columns that COVID-19 has thrust healthcare into the limelight and has had a significant positive effect on global trust in the pharmaceutical sector. The availability of successful vaccines and therapies will hopefully build this further. But having experienced COVID-19, the world is likely to be wary of the future and will be looking for governments and the scientific community to have learnt all they can, and to continue that learning.

There is also the concern that attention has been so much on COVID-19 that other health areas have taken a back seat and now need enhanced focus. The health environment in which we will be communicating will therefore be quite different from where it was at the start of 2020, full of opportunity for communicators to capitalise on this added attention.

Fake news and incomplete evidence


Before COVID-19, awareness and concerns around fake news were already mounting. This has only been heightened during the pandemic. We have also finally seen some of the major social media channels start taking much more aggressive combative action. The health communicators’ future role in helping combat fake news will certainly remain important, but will hopefully be continuing from a stronger foundation of awareness and concern.

Similarly, we need to learn to strike the right balance between the need for rapid review and dissemination of data and the associated risks. There have been both good and bad examples during this pandemic. How we learn from these and move forward in these areas will shape the future of data collection, review and dissemination.

The pandemic has been a dark time for everybody. As things improve, our attitude will be so important to our recovery. By seizing on positive opportunities, the healthcare communications sector has the potential to become stronger than ever.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and a communications consultant

30th October 2020

From: Marketing

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