EPAM Systems on the value of communication in public health

We speak to EPAM System's George Litos about the importance of effective communication strategies when it comes to public health

While the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine programmes around the world have largely been met with excitement, hesitancy has spread as a result of disinformation. 

Here George Litos, Principal of Life Sciences in Business Consulting at software developer EPAM Systems explains the how important it is to have an effective communication strategy that utilises social media when it comes to public health. 

How can you create an effective communication strategy for public health messaging? 
The healthcare industry depends on empathetic communication. People experience the entire spectrum of emotions, from fear and sadness to anger and confusion. A medical practitioner's bed-side-manner should inhabit all forms of communication. Proper and effective communication emphasises developing connections with patients and aims to change a consumer's behaviour rather than sell to them, empowering over persuading.

The best healthcare communication strategy must seek to equip patients with as much factual information as possible – without overwhelming them, of course – so that the consumers are fully capable of making decisions for themselves. 

Conversely, ineffective communication strategies use excessive jargon, ignore feedback or belittle patients for holding divergent opinions.  By addressing patient’s needs with digital and non-digital resources throughout their experience will transform their experience from sceptical to engaged. 

What is an example of an effective strategy? 
In the Tips from Former Smokers campaign, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention profiled real people who spoke as patients and not as authorities. By sharing the health effects of long-term smoking and providing tips for quitting, this communication strategy sought to empathise and inform consumers rather than impose the latest medical product.

It’s important to also consider communications with healthcare professionals as part of your strategy – they must also be sold on a product before prescribing it. With a shift in more digital engagement versus face-to-face, this means that it’s more important than ever to incorporate omnichannel strategies, informed by data and analytics, to better understand and reach healthcare prescribers.

How important is social media in terms of public health messaging? 
Today, consumers use all kinds of communication channels, from TV and radio to social media and print. Of these channels, social media offers the ability to reach most consumers and disseminate public health campaigns as they become available. Unfortunately, many of these campaigns are met with scepticism and resistance because of disinformation.  

How can disinformation on social media be countered? 
Although it is not easy, disinformation can be countered thanks in large part to big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The healthcare sector can leverage big data platforms to collect an inordinate amount of data and deploy artificial intelligence to comb through it and detect any potential misinformation. Humans play an important role for validating whatever is flagged as a falsehood and connect all the key stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem to create new campaigns to counter the 'fake news.'

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