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Adapting to a pandemic: small changes can make a big difference

By Peter Impey

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently said that he hopes the coronavirus pandemic will be over in under two years – a similar amount of time it took to overcome the Spanish flu of 1918.

While we’ve made enormous advances in medicine and technology in the intervening hundred years, COVID-19 has reminded us that we can’t eliminate the risk of infectious disease, given the highly interconnected ways we live and work in the 21st century.

New ways of working

As we all optimistically look ahead to the world that Dr Tedros envisions, where the threat of COVID-19 is under control, it seems important to take a moment to reflect on just how resilient, agile and adaptable our industry has proven itself to be in the radically changed environment of 2020.

The talent, passion and creativity that drives healthcare communicators has ensured we’ve spent recent months experimenting, adapting and upskilling to embrace new ways of working so that we can carry on doing the innovative work we love. We have found that with an open mind we can make relatively small changes to continue to deliver life- changing work during these challenging times. Below I share some of the learnings that have inspired us as we’ve gone on this journey.

Always listen first

Continuing to collaborate with patients (many of whom may be particularly vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2) so their insights can inform our work is perhaps even more important than ever before. This period caused us to pause and reflect, bringing to light the reminder to always listen first.

Having ongoing collaborative relationships with many patient advocacy groups, we intuitively understood that forging ahead with planned activities was unthinkable in the midst of a pandemic. Instead, we took the time to just be human and reach out
in solidarity to listen and understand their unique sets of challenges. For some, just being asked how they were coping and the mere offer of support was a boost during an overwhelmingly stressful time.

For challenges that we could identify as common to many of the groups, there was often a practical role we could perform via knowledge-sharing or hosting webinar forums to rapidly pass on practical solutions to new issues as they arose. This approach has succeeded in deepening and widening our relationships and is now inspiring new patient-led collaborations for the future.

Authentic content

Identifying new approaches to telling real-life stories on film has helped to create content which often feels more candid and authentic. By directing patients to film their perspectives, in their own familiar surroundings and with their own technology, we can still develop great pieces of arresting, emotional video content. The quality may at times be more smartphone than Christopher Nolan cinematography,

but this sense of ‘realness’ is often more compelling during these times. Even when pandemic restrictions seem insurmountable, it’s still possible to inspire and move people with great content, while safeguarding everyone involved in its production.

Virtual gatherings

Finally, realising the benefits that virtual working can bring has been crucial. We have recently found it easier to convene ordinarily busy experts from geographically diverse locations without the additional time constraints of travelling

to face-to-face meetings. Of course, greater preparation is required to ensure an engaging agenda, at a time which is convenient and using technology which cooperates! Yet we have

still found that such virtual gatherings make it possible to build camaraderie and a team spirit to achieve the group’s objectives sooner than you imagine possible. All delivered without the potential for spreading coronavirus infection via intercontinental travel or the monetary and environmental costs of long-haul flights.

Ingenuity and creativity

Innovation thrives when courage is valued and people feel trusted and supported to try new things. The ingenuity and creativity that drive innovation are often born from simple ideas where small changes can have a big impact. It’s about listening, being agile and eager to experiment so that we can find new ways to connect and inspire our audiences.

With a bit of lateral thinking, a willingness to rethink conventional ways of working and prioritising human empathy, we can remain true to our mission, as healthcare communicators, of supporting people to live happier and healthier lives – despite the challenges that a pandemic throws at all of us.

Peter Impey is Managing Director of 90TEN Communications

In association with

14th October 2020

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