This week I had the privilege of attending the HBA’s second Women’s Healthcare Innovation and Leadership Showcase, which featured a number of industry leaders and practitioners focusing on how to chart the future of women’s healthcare. Women represent an important target market for healthcare companies since they are considered the CEOs/CMOs of the family unit; they are often taking care of children and/or elderly parents, and have significant influence within their families and the community regarding healthcare choices. Thus, one of the main questions of the day kept coming back to: How do we as an industry (including healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and communicators) work together to improve both communications with and care of women?
Three major points surfaced several times throughout the event, which can – and should – be applied directly to communications programs for health companies:
- Education is Lacking
The healthcare industry needs to do a better job of educating consumers about health issues, risk factors and treatment options. Case in point: cervical cancer can be completely eradicated with screening (and now with vaccinations), but unfortunately women are still dying from this disease. We could also vastly reduce cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and other illnesses with better education. Three factors should be considered with patient/consumer education, however:
- It’s not enough just to provide information. We have to educate in a way that motivates women to take action – to do something for themselves and their families.
- Today’s women are extremely busy. Many are working mothers and time is precious. We have to provide information where they need it (whether that’s online, straight to their phones, or in the pediatrician’s office), in a way that’s quickly and easily digestible.
- Health education materials are often complex. The information needs to be easy to understand; messages should be simple and clear. And even more importantly, we need to go beyond telling consumers WHAT to do but also HOW to do it.
- Women are Not Engaged Early Enough
The healthcare industry tends to engage consumers when there is already a problem – for instance, once a woman or her family member has been diagnosed with a disease. Moving forward, we need to engage women as early as possible so we can start that education about risk factors and work with them throughout their adult lives to ensure they are able to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. That means starting a dialogue as early as the age of 18.
- Social Media & Mobile Are Here to Stay
With the vast amount of content available on the web and on social media, consumers are taking more initiative than ever to seek out health information and support systems. They may also be inclined to trust the opinions of their peers more than the information being distributed by scientists and government bodies (just take the recent online controversy around childhood vaccinations as one example).
It’s important for the health industry not to ignore social. Instead, listen to what’s happening on social and participate in those conversations. Understand what consumers are thinking and why they feel the way they do. Figure out what kind of language they respond to. Then seek to address their concerns and provide education in a way that will make them listen.
And keep in mind a couple important facts:
- Women search four times as much for healthcare information online than men. They’re also more comfortable buying online. Thus, any health education campaign targeting women needs to have a strong online component, and conversely, any online campaign you conduct is likely to be seen by more women than men.
- Women influencers around the globe, from NY to the furthest corner of India, have a mobile phone on them 24/7. Health companies can reach their entire audience and increase health literacy and education simply by utilizing text messaging. According to Ernst & Young, if at least 50% of your digital budget isn’t in mobile, you’re fighting the wrong battle.
- Social media has broken down all kinds of taboos. Women are comfortable talking about health issues they never would’ve mentioned 30 years ago, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and online communities. Don’t be afraid to “go there.” Taboo topics will get your audience talking.