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Public Relations in Healthcare

The healthcare landscape is ever evolving, and so must the communication of the companies that operate in this sector. Healthcare professionals need to be creative with their public relations efforts in order to reach their target audience and secure their share of voice. In 2015, communication for healthcare changed drastically due to new regulations. As someone who works in this sector, I thought of sharing my thoughts on this issue.

Prior to 2015, the UAE media scene for healthcare was fairly open for PR opportunities. Sharing news about procedures performed by the client’s physicians, newly added machines, and partnerships was permitted. The landscape has since changed. The Ministry of Health (MOH) began highly regulating these activities. It started monitoring the news and any communications shared by the PR agencies in the UAE, and regulated the process so that they were not able to share any news, whether online or on print, without MOH’s approval. This approach was made to counter a number of untrue or exaggerated healthcare organisation claims that had previously been made. While many PR activities have a tendency to boost and beautify clients, this approach is not applicable to the healthcare industry. Information shared has to be accurate, credible, and physicians speaking to the audience have to be trustworthy.

Healthcare organisations cannot just announce their news, or raise awareness their physicians’ achievements anymore without following a process. They are now required to register on the MOH website and upload each press release or article to get it approved. This highly regulated scene has produced a drastic change in the media healthcare landscape, putting PR agencies under huge pressure to overcome these regulations and provide their clients with accurate advice and recommendations.

These regulations have played an important role in pushing us at PR agencies to think outside of the box and design strategies to help our clients achieve their goals. Especially with a savvy audience looking to the media for credible information, as they conduct sophisticated research to help them to make their decisions. Physicians should work on gaining speaking opportunities, interviews, articles, and commentaries, in order to raise the awareness of their audience.

At Cicero & Bernay, we were able to overcome these regulations, and managed to raise the profile of our healthcare client in a year, generating $2 Million worth of PR coverage and many leads for their physicians. With a well-executed PR plan, the team was able to share many articles and interviews, which led to the positioning of their physicians as thought leaders in their field. The plan focused on sharing a number of mostly seasonal health awareness articles (such as Ramadan tips for pregnant ladies, Vitamin D deficiency and its effect on fertility and general health tips for couples seeking IVF treatment) drafted by the physicians. Although the organisation’s name was not mentioned in these articles, the audience of this industry is keen to search for the physician’s details if they are interested in the content. This was a good enough reason to move focus away from print publications towards securing coverage online.

We also provided media with access to experts from our clients, for commentaries on healthcare issues and innovations. This has amplified word of mouth within the target audience, encouraging them to seek treatment and consultation from physicians that they saw on TV or read about in the newspaper.

The result was that physicians were showcased as thought leaders in the healthcare industry and became the media’s reference point for commentaries and interviews. This meant that instead of pitching the news to the media, we were being contacted by journalists to provide the physicians’ opinions on both local and international news.