How can PR firms support the growth of telehealth?
Telum spoke with members of PROI Worldwide - Karin Lohitnavy, Master Connector at Midas PR, Thailand, BlessAnn Luah, Head of Communications & Partnerships at Distilleri and Elaine Chuah, Executive Director at Priority Communications PR and Co-Chair, APAC, PROI Worldwide to understand how COVID-19 has influenced consumer habits and the role PR agencies play in amplifying outreach efforts by healthcare brands to stand out in the competitive health landscape.
COVID-19 reshaping consumer priorities
The pandemic has seen massive shifts in consumer behaviour across Asia, and these shifts are not likely to revert post pandemic. A report from Accenture indicated that consumers now focus more on basic needs, sending demand for hygiene, cleaning and staples products soaring while non-essential categories slump.
However, that does not mean that “non-essential” products are left in the dust. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated consumers spending more time on wellness with 48 per cent intending to maintain a newly acquired health and wellness habit and 28 per cent picking up new hobbies.
Karin noted the shifts in the healthcare industry as more patients are transitioning to remote healthcare, citing benefits like saving time and reduced personal risk in terms of exposure. After all COVID-19 is not the sole health concern in Asia as the region grapples with rapid ageing population and other chronic illnesses. With that, BlessAnn believes that long-term care for chronic illnesses should be a crucial national conversation and digital solutions like telehealth open new opportunities for the health sector.
The role of PR in telehealth
Elaine highlights that PR firms can play an integral role in telehealth adoption through increasing visibility and positive publicity, building and maintaining the reputation of the provider. These strategies may include introducing campaigns, and responding to macro happenings which prompt public concern and a desire for change. Karin added, “It also can be used to grow awareness among the public for ‘protective health behaviours’ which means they are less likely to need high-impact medical interventions at all; so, these offerings then have the potential to become wellness maintenance and advice-based services for many users.”
BlessAnn stressed that telehealth should be seen as a silo, and not as a solution that sits laterally across the full range of healthcare services. “Current players within the telehealth space in Singapore have positioned it as a good to have, but not as the way forward yet.” She also adds on this saying that the older generation may not be so digitally savvy, and sees many isolated, vulnerable seniors who are the very same individuals who need telehealth services the most.
To tackle this issue BlessAnn expresses the need for robust education campaigns in place so that patients see it as a more accessible, convenient, and preferable option than going to a clinic. “There’s still a long way to go in this space and long-tail PR strategies will help build community trust and acceptance,” she adds.
Regulation and privacy
Despite its increasing popularity, data privacy and regulation still pose as a huge concern for most telehealth practitioners. Elaine stressed that global players, new entrants, and even current existing players in the industry will need the strategic support of an experienced partner in navigating the complexity of these issues. “They say that Public Affairs is the new Public Relations and this is especially true in this space.”
BlessAnn believes that there needs to be a concerted effort between policymakers and private organisations to promote telehealth adoption and lobby for better infrastructure. She noted that the effective use of communications can give patients a sense of ease when there is a contiguous chain of care.
She shared that one of the values that comms provides as part of its strategic counsel is the alignment of partnerships with key industry players specifically within the MedTech space in this case. She concluded, “Through initiatives such as these, PR can lead outreach efforts to inform the public about rigorous measures that have been put in place for patient privacy. With formulated messaging, content can also be created across various patient care departments within healthcare organisations and distributed across various touchpoints.”