Six things we’ve learned about healthcare communications in pandemic times

By John Gisborne, Chair of Healthcare, London and Jacqui Sanders, Head of Healthcare, London

In recent months, anyone who is anyone in healthcare communications will probably agree with the following: 

Nothing has stopped – programming has continued apace 

  • Everyone pivoted quickly in March and then continued to innovate in terms of business planning and project delivery 
  • Win strategies for virtual medical meetings were proved early – around the time of ACC.  Once it was clear that data could still be published as normal ‘virtual’ has become the new norm  
  • Physicians asked us to keep doing what we do – firmly. Communicating progress must continue  
  • Stakeholders have dug in and standards are high 
  • New and interesting opportunities are coming to the fore 

Now, this hasn’t happened by accident. Certainly, healthcare is at the frontline of our response to COVID-19 and would be expected to ‘do well’ in these times. But, this would be a narrow view. Whilst most healthcare companies are involved in pandemic-related technical challenges in some way, few have allowed the times to define their onward purpose or identity.  Indeed, those that have certainly won’t have won any prizes for cultural sensitivity and probably won’t be around for long.   

Healthcare has kept delivering business as usual, focusing on patients, supply chain, innovationsystem enablement and return to surgery. Any COVIDrelated projects have quietly and competently run alongside.  COVID-related upside in business bottom line is still to be seen and isn’t the current goal. Keeping going is. 

In communications, the struggle we thought we would see is paralysis – a lack of decision making and stranded projects. The reality has been the opposite. How to help clients make faster and more effective decisions, plan for success and deliver outcomes in short timeframes has been the challenge. Agility and sprinting, followed by effective re-grouping has been the order of the day. The only pitfall has been the need to help clients make some sense of the process. When everyone is sprinting, someone has to control the race and remember when we started and where we are going. If not, inefficiency will result.   

Here is what we have learned:  

  1. There is a very positive psychology in this. Projects that depend on momentum for success galvanize teams and give everyone the security of where they are at and where the end game lies. The outputs are better.  Many people have realised that that prolonged projects zap energy and risk nothing being delivered in the end 
  2. Sprints give leaders a means to demonstrate transformational leadership 
  3. The old models of finding a new idea and delivering it are dead. We have exchanged the iterative cycle or testing and learning with a new freedom to get things off the ground before the environment changes.   
  4. Where we have lost the (occasional) cumulative benefit of inputs from LOTS of people before pressing ‘go’, devolved responsibility to stakeholders that matter have focused decision-makers who have brought their best ‘selves’ 
  5. Virtual collaboration is different and brings something different – you have to understand what that is and focus it 
  6. Agility isn’t about speed. It’s about being flexible and adaptive – and most importantly about being free. Free from your own learned behaviors, barriers and red lines. If something can’t be done in six weeks, it probably didn’t need doing enough. 


Bringing this to you – acting on our learnings, FleishmanHillard Healthcare is changing the way we package and deliver quick turnaround, business-critical projects. From here onwards, clients can purchase a Six-Week Solutionbased on the fact that it’s possible to do almost anything in six weeks. If you take longer, the variables can change. Contact us and see how you can work in partnership with us and receive a tangible deliverable in six weeks or less. 

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