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Smart Thinking blog

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

20/20 vision

Predicting the year ahead for healthcare communications


It would be great to have perfect sight of what might happen this year for healthcare communicators. 

But perhaps instead of spending our efforts second-guessing this, we should take Abraham Lincoln’s advice that ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it’. I think there are some areas we instinctively know will be important this year, and by recognising these, healthcare communicators can certainly play an important role in helping to create, rather than predict, the future.


The climate agenda is now very much permanently on the agenda. Healthcare communicators have an important role to play not just in informing, but also in driving a sustainability agenda within their organisations. Outside healthcare we have seen organisations such as Unilever trailblazing their corporate commitment, with their communications leaders being heralded as key players in the revolution.

For pharma, the need to address sustainability is equally important, not just as a show of corporate responsibility, but also for sound business reasons as customers start demanding more sustainable practices within their procurement.

Talent and diversity

As a specialist sector, finding, training and keeping talent within healthcare communications remains a challenge, particularly within agencies where the experience, abilities and continuity of their staff are fundamental for commercial success.

It’s a multifactorial challenge, but thinking more diversely in terms of where we find our future communicators and understanding better how we maintain motivation and commitment, especially at mid-levels, are all areas where we can help shape our profession in 2020.


The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer once again showed us that, although there was an overall increase in trust in pharmaceutical business across the 26 markets researched, trust within Europe remained only at best ‘neutral’, with many markets showing a level categorised as ‘distrust’.

After a year with several high-profile drug shortages, and extended and very public reimbursement negotiations within Europe for some important new treatments, there is clearly still much to be done at a reputational level. The communicators’ role in helping to address these challenges in 2020 will continue to be paramount.

Fake news

Every day, more sources of information become available and with social influencers on the increase, fake news and ‘bad science’ will continue to infiltrate our lives. We only need to look at the vaccine market to understand how dangerous this can be in healthcare. For most people the idea that diseases like measles are becoming more prevalent in parts of Europe is abhorrent.

Yet still people are seeing, hearing and believing ‘viral misinformation’ and, as a consequence, not getting their children vaccinated. Communications professionals have a key role to play in helping address fake news in healthcare and in identifying and supporting new, credible and varied channels to communicate accurate and ethical information.

Communicating complexity

The pharmaceutical industry and charity sector need healthcare professionals, patients and the public to understand the important work they do and the therapeutic solutions they can offer.

But with the increasing complexity of healthcare research and treatment advances, communicators again maintain an essential role in helping healthcare professionals, scientists, care providers and their own organisations communicate complex information in an understandable and engaging way.

Pharmaceutical communicators will also need to adapt their skills and approaches with the increasing demands of drug development, combined with the personalisation of therapies for rare diseases, as well as precision medicine responding to genomic information. These treatments are under more pressure to come to market quickly, which creates a clear market access challenge, with the price of drugs increasing even though they are targeting smaller populations.

Technology, data and healthcare

Companies like Google and Amazon are not looking at coming into healthcare, they are already here and established. It’s an exciting time, but with innovation comes new (and old) communication challenges.

To release the true potential, we need to ensure all stakeholders are brought on the journey, which provides some new and exciting opportunities for healthcare communicators. If as communicators we embrace this future, we can help ensure our strong position within it.

These are just a few examples where healthcare communications professionals will continue to have future-shaping roles in 2020 and beyond. And the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) will be alongside, supporting the profession in the development of skills, sharing of knowledge and setting the quality standards needed to succeed.

Throughout 2020 there will undoubtedly be much more discussion on each of these areas, and many others, not just in this column, but throughout PME. One thing is clear, a 2020 vision of communications professionals further cementing their importance at the highest levels within healthcare is something we can not just predict, but can all help to create.

Article by
Mike Dixon

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

20th January 2020

From: Marketing


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