Science has been essential to our understanding of the world — and ourselves — for centuries. And after nearly two years consumed by understanding and combating COVID-19, it has never been more top of mind for the mainstream public. In 2020, the top Google search globally was “coronavirus” and the most used hashtag on Twitter was “#COVID19”. Today, the public is focused on learning about infectious disease, vaccines and regulatory approval processes.
As this increased awareness of and interest in science extends beyond the parameters of the pandemic, it will require an evolution of how healthcare companies communicate to their audiences. With people ready to take control of their health and treatment options in new ways, companies must be poised to meet the expectations of today’s consumers when communicating with patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals (HCPs), as well as with niche audiences like regulatory bodies, academia and media.
Four experts across biopharma, biotech, health tech and consumer science from Spectrum Science, an integrated marketing, communications and media agency hyper-focused on science, explore the trends impacting health and science communications — and how healthcare companies should evolve their efforts in response.
Long-term trends affecting healthcare communications
The lines between patient and HCP audiences have blurred as people are taking more research into their own hands, searching for deep information about products and striving to understand the science around diseases and treatment mechanisms of action.
“With patients reading and accessing more health-related information than ever before, the messages we distribute externally aimed at HCPs need to appeal to patients too,” said Megan Humphreys, senior vice president in biotech. “We need to translate complicated science into digestible and compelling storytelling for the average person.”
One process people need further explanation on is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory approval process, including the steps of clinical trials. Although the industry knows there are multiple pathways to approval, the shorter timelines for the COVID-19 vaccine caused many of those paying attention to the process for the first time to question the validity of the accelerated authorization.
“We are working to help the public understand that the purpose of the approval process is to help get safe and effective treatments into the hands of people that need them,” said Allie Golden, Senior Vice President in Biopharma.
The public is also more tuned in to the development of new technologies and products that can help empower them to take control of their health. “We are leveraging this by encouraging the public to take advantage of the latest tools and products that can help them monitor their own health so they can make informed decisions about their treatment,” said Leslie Wheeler, executive vice president in health tech.
Shifting approach to meet consumer demands
We live in a “prove it” society, with strong consumer desire for evidence behind a product’s claims. For example, we know that more than half of young people are seeking science-backed information more frequently than they did before the pandemic. Combined with a growing number of product options for patients and caregivers, this makes scientific messaging increasingly important.
“Consumers are now more educated and empowered to challenge the claims they see on product packaging,” said Darcy Keane, Senior Vice President in Consumer Science. “This is the perfect opportunity for a brand’s science to shine and serve as proof points for how their products work.”
Increased interest in science, combined with shifting legislation across the country, also impacts storytelling for advertising with consumer products. Brands are now expected to offer a greater level of safety data and to be more transparent regarding ingredient disclosure. For some brands, this will mean providing context for why certain ingredients are included and why they are necessary to ensure a product is effective.
“COVID-19 showed us that brands can, and should, utilize science for the greater good of society — that means tackling social and environmental challenges head-on,” Keane said. “For example, we’ve seen that companies will need to invest in sustainable packaging and communicate about responsible sourcing or be prepared to fall behind the competition.”
Cutting through the information overload
The pandemic has reinforced people’s trust in the opinions of medical experts, with 89% of Americans reporting having trust in medical scientists. Companies can harness this trust in many categories by working with credible medical professionals and receiving their endorsement on products.
“It’s critical that we continue to counsel our clients around the value of partnering with key opinion leaders and professional organizations,” Golden said.
There are various ways to collaborate with external scientific experts, and agencies need to target these professionals at the right time in the product life cycle.
“We’re helping more clients engage HCPs in product and clinical study development to help ensure that the products they’re creating — and claims that they’re making — are backed by science,” Keane said.
With the public’s evolving relationship with science affecting stakeholders across the entire healthcare spectrum, there are major implications for how healthcare companies must approach communications with every audience. Spectrum brings its nuanced expertise in biopharma, biotech, health tech and consumer science to its mission to connect all humankind to its best healthlife. Learn more at SpectrumScience.com.