Healthcare Communicators Emphasize Mixing Tech and the Human Touch

Technology has significantly changed the jobs of many communicators. This is true for healthcare communicators especially, who work in a space where technology changes things daily. On the other hand, elevating the human voice of the patient amidst the technology has become an FDA mandate. This trend will increase as the FDA requires further patient input across the board, says Maura Bergen, Porter Novelli EVP and U.S. health lead.  This should prompt clearer communications.

Ahead of the 2019 PRNEWS Top Women in Healthcare Communications luncheon, which was held July 16, 2019, in NY, we asked several awards finalists about technology's role in  healthcare communications. We also inquired about how to ensure, in spite of technology, that the human touch comes through in healthcare communications.

Finalists echoed the repeated theme of wanting patients to be active participants in their healthcare journey. The importance of basics, such as knowing your audience and being transparent, were other oft-heard themes. We think communicators in all fields will find the advice imparted here applicable to many sectors.


For Meghan Gutierrez, CEO, Lymphoma Research Foundation, transparency is imperative. "All patients, especially those facing a life-threatening diagnosis like cancer, should be proactively provided clear and concise information about their diagnosis," she says. The short- and long-term implications of treatment options and decisions, "be they medical, financial or ethical," also should be presented. This ensures patients "are fully supported to participate in the shared decision-making process."

Meghan Gutierrez Lymphoma Research Foundation

Similarly, Edwina Payne, SVP/chief enterprise architect and IT strategy, McKesson Technology, stresses the importance of considering your audience, particularly with technical messaging. Facts, Payne says, are important. "But facts without context can be misunderstood," she says, "especially when communicating about technology." Her go-to is employing understandable language, "and using examples or analogies whenever possible."

The Proper Role of Tech

As CEO of Citus Health, a post-acute care provider, Melissa Kozak believes there's less of a contest between technology and human touch than it seems. "The role of digital health technology isn’t to replace human interactions," she says. Tech exists to automate and streamline mundane tasks. As a result, there are more opportunities to provide "a high-value, personalized experience," she says.

Similarly, communications technology can enable a human touch in other ways, she says.  A former nurse, Kozak points to healthcare pros using chat and video to reach rural and homebound patients. The result is immediate access to a healthcare professional. Prior to such technology, patients could wait for weeks or months, she says.


Dr. Robin L. Smith
Cura Foundation

Dr. Robin L. Smith, MBA, president and chairman of the board of The Cura Foundation, advocates multi-pronged communications programs. Programs that include parents, educators, influencers, payers, and policymakers can reduce future healthcare costs, she says.

She adds that communications should include pharmaco-economic arguments "with their ensuing family and societal impacts so consumers understand the benefits of good preventive measures." These can reduce future healthcare costs.

For example, interventions during childhood, such as preventing excessive exposure to radiation (including the Sun) and tobacco use, can significantly reduce cancers later in life. "Explain in clear language the what, why, and how of each intervention. The language must  communicate personal relevance, necessity, and urgency," she adds.

Know Your Audience

Another PR maxim, "think like a journalist," is amended in healthcare to "think like a patient." This mindset should influence much of healthcare communications, says Gina D'Angelo-Mullen, director, marketing & communications, CareMount Health Solutions.  In addition, she says, it's important communicators "not lose sight that we are patient educators."

Storytelling is the best use of digital technology for healthcare communicators, says Chrissi Gillispie, outreach coordinator, Foothills Gateway, Inc. "[Storytelling] is the most human thing we have." To tout a new program, tell the story of why it was created. Emphasize the people involved. Tell a story about "the human who thought of it or made the need clear to professionals."

Seth Arenstein is editor of PR News.  Follow him: @skarenstein