I remember attending a panel discussion when I was in college, and a PR pro said, “I didn’t choose the healthcare industry. It chose me.” That really stuck with me, and even to this day, I still keep that in mind.
There are opportunities for PR pros in just about every industry you can think of. While each has its own rewarding aspects, I think working in healthcare is especially rewarding. Helping people learn about new, potentially life-changing procedures, connecting them with physicians who can give them the help they need, and telling impactful patient stories (with their consent, of course) are a few of the many rewarding things healthcare communicators often do. If you are interested in working in healthcare communications, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Privacy and consent are key
Patient medical information is protected by a law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA. This law is very specific about how patient info can be communicated, and who can have access to it. Even if a patient is excited to share their story, you will need to be certain that you obtain written consent in accordance to the policies of whichever healthcare organization you work for. Be sure to talk to the patient and let them know how their story will be told and answer any questions they may have before proceeding with any communications about their story.
2. Empathy is incredibly important
One of the most important characteristics those working in healthcare should have is empathy. Not only the doctors, nurses and other care team members, but even those in the PR team. Patients who are going through medical challenges may experience a wide array of emotions. They may want to partake in media activities, and then decide after more thought that they would rather not. Even if they have a compelling story, if they decide they’d rather not be public about it, that is their right and PR pros should always respect that.
3. Always be appreciative to patients who are willing to share their story
Going public about health challenges is a big decision for many people, for a range of different reasons. Some may be hesitant to let their colleagues know they are sick, while others may still be grappling with the emotions of a recent diagnosis. If they are willing to allow you to share their story, be sure to always express gratitude and help them understand how it will help others who may be in a position similar to theirs.
In the more than three and a half years since I began working in healthcare, I feel I’ve grown a lot as person by learning from the patients I have been fortunate to meet. This is a rewarding industry to work in, and to me, nothing feels better than hearing that a patient was able to learn about and access the care they needed, starting with the work that we do as healthcare communicators. If you are interested in working in healthcare, I would encourage you to connect with someone who works in this industry to get their perspective about the unique challenges and rewards of their job.
Jeff Adkins is a public relations specialist with Henry Ford Health System, and a member of both PRSA National and PRSA Detroit.
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