As 2016 comes to a close, a year of charged change around the world, it feels like the right time to stop and ask ourselves an important question. As a team of patient advocates, social media strategists, filmmakers, science writers, and people living with rare and common illnesses ourselves, how we can improve conversations about healthcare for our clients and communities?

The world is more volatile, more polarizing these days. Ensuring that every voice is heard is more important now than ever, particularly in healthcare. As we thought about that question, we spent a lot of time talking about people, not patients, and the importance of that distinction in the language of healthcare. Quickly, we realised that people, not patients was our answer.

Why People, Not Patients?

It’s a reminder: every day, each of us will be, know, or love a patient. 

Chronic illness and health crises are things that happen to someone else, until they happen to you or to someone you love. At H+K, we resist the urge to define someone by their most obvious circumstance. We don’t stop being who we are when we get sick. We are still people who play video games, fall in love, need to put food on the table.

Around the world, we differ in culture, geography, political landscape, and access pathways to medicine, but the things we share as people are greater than the differences. Any program or strategy we develop needs to reflect that human understanding of what’s actually needed in a given health context. Behavioural science, research, and real world conversations help us understand what’s really important, and where we, with our clients, can help.

It’s a mindset: Empathy is the most important tool a communicator has. 

During a recent debate on the ‘glossary’ of healthcare communications, we were challenged by a colleague who lives with a rare condition to think about what it might feel like to be told you’re brave or bold because you live with an illness or have cancer. ‘Imagine it,’ she said. ‘Putting people on any kind of pedestal creates barriers to equality.’ Language is powerful, and getting it right matters. We need to start with listening and respond to the needs of the people closest to the challenge, using their language, and reflecting their experience.

And a three word reality check: More than anything else, our communications only matter when they are useful to people. 

At a time of exciting technological advances, we remind ourselves not to be distracted by the shiny or the trendy when it comes to choosing our tools. We celebrate the incredible breakthroughs in modern medicine and communications—but we hold firm that what we create serves a practical purpose and is rooted in insights.

Our commitment to partnering on interesting projects, conversations and movements across the health spectrum is deeply personal, and supported by our agency’s focus on purpose-driven communications. We’ve built a team that’s ready to take on tomorrow’s health challenges. That commitment is reflected in the choices we make, the people and the organisations we partner with.

To learn more about H+K Health, how we think, and the way we work in healthcare communications, patient advocacy and scientific content, email me at jessica.walsh@hkstrategies.com.