Telum Vox Pop: World Health Day (Part 1)

Telum Vox Pop: World Health Day (Part 1)

(Photo credit: World Health Organisation's World Health Day 2024 |

As technology advances, a disparity can be observed between the way older and younger generations consume media. In conjunction with World Health Day (7th April), Telum spoke with health PR professionals about the generational changes in communications within the healthcare sector.

In the first of this two-part series, we look at the communication preferences of different generations, along with the challenges of crafting effective messages to cater to both ends of the generational spectrum.

How do communication preferences vary between different generations, and how do comms professionals effectively craft engaging messages to ensure they're relevant to both groups?

Karina Durham, Chief Executive Officer, Palin Communications
Different age groups care about different health messages. Baby boomers, millennials, Gen Zer’s and every other group all care about health, but in different capacities. It is easy to get trapped into feeling that the answer to effective communication lies in the adoption, mastery, and creation of content for TikTok and other emerging platforms. However, generational groups all have preferences in how they consume health information.

The important questions are:
  • Where do people go to access trustworthy information about health?
  • How do people unpack information to understand important health messages?
  • Who do people trust and listen to?
For some, it is on social media, others still rely on traditional media platforms, and many rely on what their community groups and leaders are sharing. Knowing what mediums to share your messages on is only one aspect. Tailoring messages to suit the people you are speaking to is at the core of effective healthcare communication.

Emma Hussey, Head of Health, WE Communications
Older generations still rely on traditional news platforms. However, we are seeing a shift in digital literacy, as they are increasingly becoming savvy on social platforms like YouTube and even TikTok for sources of health information. Whereas younger generations, who are native to social platforms, are more likely to use channels like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram as sources of health information.

For healthcare communications to resonate with audiences across any generation, it’s important to first gain insights around what drives the behaviour of the target audience and how they access health information. In patient communities, there is a saying commonly used: “nothing about us without us”. WE Communications adopts a co-design model where we work with representatives from audience groups throughout the campaign to hear directly what their communication preferences are (i.e. channel, format, messaging). This ensures our communications will ultimately resonate and drive impact.

Gillian Fish, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The 6AM Agency
Before we consider communications, we should consider the healthcare landscape itself, which is at a crossroads. Gen Y and Z are brought up in a world that talks Prevention vs Cure, looking at preventive measures to keep healthy, while Millennials and Baby Boomers are tackling ageing and lifestyle-related disease, focusing on reversal and / or treatment of symptoms. According to McCrindle, Builders, Boomers, Generation X, Y, Z and Gen Alpha, are living side by side, with Gen Beta coming on stream behind that, each with varying health and communications needs and styles, and recognising these nuances are essential for crafting effective messages.

Pointers that matter for different generations to deliver effective healthcare messaging include health and wellness education, building trust by leveraging KOLs, utilising digital data to provide tailored suggestions, leveraging human interest stories and balancing emotional story-telling against functional benefits, aligning with social causes and values that resonate with different audiences, highlight sustainability and ethics, utilise edutainment, and building a collective by fostering an online community of like-minded individuals.

Paul Jans, Managing Director and Owner, VIVA! Communications
The fundamentals of coordinating any health communications campaign remain the same. To effectively communicate across generations, you need to know your audience, adapt your language, choose your channel, listen actively and respect diversity. While some members of your target audience may prefer communication that is succinct and straight to the point, others may appreciate a lot more detail or information to be communicated, either visually or via the written word.

We utilise diverse communication platforms at VIVA! to appeal to our target audience, whether specialists, GPs, pharmacists, nurses, allied health professionals, patients, or the community at large.

What are health comms professionals doing to combat issues such as misinformation and disinformation due to the digital literacy gap between younger and older generations?

Karina Durham
It is important not to fall into the trap of thinking one size fits all with messages and making assumptions. Not all generations engage on digital platforms, and on the flip side, not all people in older age groups are shying away from the digital world.

Digital platforms are not the only solution, but it is also important not to disregard this channel under the assumption that older generations don’t engage in this manner. Outside of the digital aspect, health communications also continue to heavily rely on external sources to validate health information. For example, health experts, research, industry bodies and other evidence-based resources all play a role in combatting misinformation and disinformation.

Emma Hussey
There’s growing expectations to have immediate answers, leading people to sources of medical influence online before seeing a healthcare professional. This can be beneficial in raising awareness of conditions and encouraging people to seek support, but it does open up the risk of misinformation if content is shared by unreliable sources. A person’s level of digital literacy will influence their ability to identify reliable vs unreliable health information resources online.

Additionally, the search landscape is becoming increasingly fragmented, resulting in people accessing health information across multiple sources rather than one centralised location, and at different touchpoints in their healthcare journey. Search-based behaviours are shifting from broad-based searches to modality-based searches, with people looking for specific information personalised to them.

We can treat digital channels as an intelligence tool to derive unique insights on our audiences to understand where the gaps are that need addressing. We need to consider all touchpoints and channels. People’s journeys in accessing healthcare information are increasingly cyclical, so we need to meet them at multiple touchpoints to ensure we are reaching everyone across all generations and demographics, despite their level of digital literacy.

Gillian Fish
The journey starts with rigour around relevance and accuracy of messaging, which should be consistent and clear, and carefully tailored specific to each generation.

Vigilance with social listening to flag false information, supporting the promotion of accurate information, and tagging of relevant and reliable sources is important to maintain trust and stature. Communicators should understand how to discern reliable online sources, with always-on critical thinking imperative across all age groups to ensure accurate information. Investing in training healthcare professionals who have the trust of their patients, and engaging KOLs and credible influencers armed with scientific data with reach across various platforms would also contribute to reducing misinformation and will help build a bridge between the literacy gap.

Communicators should also request feedback to hear of hopes, fears and concerns to identify misinformation and tackle it head on.

Paul Jans
Being digitally literate does not necessarily prevent people from sharing false information via social media. People sometimes fail to keep accuracy at the top of their minds when sharing content digitally.

Medical misinformation and disinformation due to the digital literacy gap between generations has interfered with healthcare PR practitioners' ability to communicate with the general population in a wide variety of public health contexts globally. The sheer volume of false narratives is insurmountable, and the challenge for health communicators is to ensure all aspects of potential mis and disinformation threats about the most common or dangerous narratives of health disinformation are mitigated.

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