Six things that PR can learn from healthcare


So I’ve worked in the NHS for five months now and I’m a bit further along in understanding how it all fits together.

So far in life I’ve been pretty lucky with health, so this job is my first real encounter with hospitals and medical staff and it’s fascinating to see how they work.

In my usual cross eyed way these are my six lessons that comms and PR people can learn from the medical profession.

#1 Clarity of purpose & a sense of mission

The main thing that’s struck me about working in the NHS right from day one is the ceaseless focus on one thing – the patients and making them better. Every conceivable decision is firmly rooted in what it will mean for people coming into the hospital. In the medical environment everybody knows what the ultimate end game is and why they are doing it.

Comms lesson: Is our work always as targeted and focused on such a very clear set of objectives? Do we always know why we are doing what we are doing? If we can draw that golden thread through all our communications plans and objectives and tie it to such clear outcomes then we’ll be halfway there.

#2 Continuous development and assessment

Most medical staff (and actually all staff at our trust) are subject to constant learning, assessment and mandatory training to ensure vital skills are kept right up-to-date. The clinical teams have to go through continual learning and accreditation from a professional body just to be able to continue practising.

Comms lesson: As comms professionals are we committing to constantly updating our own skills so that we can provide the best possible service to clients and organisations? Do we as practitioners grow at the same rate as the latest industry trends?

#3 Data and diagnosis

At every clinical meeting I’ve been at and in almost every conversation with consultants the key question that I’ve heard asked is ‘what does the data tell us’?

As someone weaned on medical dramas like house and ER that’s a real eye opener as we often see the medical community portrayed on screen as these mystical, Holmesian figures. However, I’ve learned that it’s really based on evidence, data and experience. Most consultants I’ve spoken to are obsessed by amassing data and research.

Comms lesson: We live in an age where more data, statistics and analytics exist than ever before. What does this data tell us and are we looking closely enough? Measurement and planning should be easier than ever before.

#4 Friendly and supportive

As a whole I’ve found the NHS an organisation with a key trait at its core – care. That includes staff and it’s an environment that is friendly and supportive, especially for new comers.

Comms lesson: Lighten up a bit. We’re meant to enjoy it. Ultimately this will make you better at your job because more than any other business, communications is a people business.

#5 Triage

Dictionary definition: (in medical use) the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties

Comms lesson: In really busy comms environments I think we can learn a lot by looking at the way we deal with the incoming flack. Sometimes it’s tempting to rate everything as equally important. Guess what, it’s not.

#6 Death and serious business

Clinicians in the NHS deal with some really big stuff. Life and death decisions about your care and treatment are part of a day’s work. It must be the most rewarding – yet stressful and at times emotional jobs – that you can do.

Comms lesson: Nobody ever died from a press release or a rubbish status update. Don’t be afraid to fail or try new things because ultimately what’s the worst that can happen? We live a pretty charmed existence in the grand scheme of things so get out there and enjoy it.


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