Sunday, March 20, 2005

Medical PR 

BusinessWeek this week has a major article on the wired hospital. It is a must-read for PR practitioners for a couple of reasons. As written here frequently, medical costs in the US are soaring and require concerted effort to control. I can tell you from personal experience that medical costs make life difficult in the agency world. An agency has to pass through most medical increases to employees, and increases hit the paycheck -- hard. Medical costs are among the largest expenses companies' have other than payroll.

The second reason is that medical technology needs a new kind of PR person, although the person is not a PR practitioner. At Hackensack University Medical Center, the focus of the BusinessWeek story, the practitioner is a doctor in charge of medical informatics. His real job is getting doctors to use the computer system because only a few use it willingly, and then, documenting the improvement for the doctors and the hospital. The hospital was astute in determining that it takes a doctor to persuade doctors. Communicators do not have the credibility to get the job done.

Take the time to read the whole story. It describes where medicine should have been five years ago and is still stumbling towards. The article points to the difficulties of automating, a stumbling block at many hospitals. The key is usability. If a system isn't easy to use, no one will take the time to learn it. Usability is an issue we have discussed in web page design. Note also that the hospital has dressed its robot in a lab coat with a stethoscope hanging around its "neck" to humanize the machine.

Hackensack is pioneering communications techniques to make its system work, and there are lessons there for anyone working in medical PR.


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