Why healthcare communications will never be the same. By Raul Damas.
Until recently, the audience was limited for clinical trial readouts, regulatory medical filings, scientific-journal articles and such.
True, most topics always drew some interest from a subset of the scientific and medical communities, and a wider readership consumed the brilliant journalism of medical writers like Atul Gawande.
Still, the audience for medical and scientific information was a niche—a niche whose borders the pandemic blew wide open.
Overnight, medical information became the equivalent of hand sanitizer and toilet paper: People couldn’t get enough of it. Ordinary people started talking about ventilators, pulse oximeters, herd immunity, zoonotic origins, gain-of-function research, aerial versus surface transmission, antigen tests versus PCR and mRNA vaccines. In newsrooms, every health desk—usually a supporting character—became the star of the newsroom.
COVID-19, the most severe public health crisis of the information age, has enhanced the power of health communications, for better and worse. Despite concerns about mass dissemination of information intended for experts, the practice likely will persist, because it satisfies the public’s demand for instant answers and the media’s demand for clicks, while bringing earlier attention to researchers.
A pandemic requiring behavioral change has shown that communication is essential to global health. “The most powerful tool in the public health bag is communications,” The New Yorker’s Gawande, a practicing surgeon, recently said.
A general public that’s hungrier for medical information—and increasingly sophisticated enough to question it—offers challenges and opportunities.
We’ve already seen vaccine developers speaking directly to the public about their commitment to keep politics away from R&D. Other healthcare outfits are creating clever video and social media content describing how certain medicines work in the human body. This is a departure from the days—not long ago—when this type of information was found only in dense, jargon-laden publications. It turns out that healthcare information, when freed from its historically elitist constraints, can be highly effective.