What does it mean to be a patient-focused organization? Krysta Pellegrino, Chief Client Officer at Health+Commerce, shares insights on how to put actions behind words and effectively communicate the patient focus. She also offers advice on how to be creative within a regulated industry?
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: KRYSTA PELLEGRINO
DOUG: Krysta, you talk about the phrase patient focus being thrown around maybe quite a bit too much. What do you really mean when you say patient focus and what does it mean for an organization?
KRYSTA: Thanks for that question. I think as someone who’s spent my career in healthcare communications, it’s really important for all of us in the field to really understand and appreciate the importance of being patient-focused. I’ve worked with a number of companies, both in-house and my own roles, or with my clients that say that they’re patient-focused and because they’re developing medicines or devices or treatments for patients, it’s true. But, in how that actually comes through in the day-to-day, what it’s like to be that company, I think it varies.
DOUG: So, that raises a great question is even though the intent might be there. How do you communicate it and actually make that happen, so it does come through?
KRYSTA: Well, as communications experts, we have a great opportunity to do this. I think one of the very simple things is we understand the importance of words and individual word choice. If you think about something like the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, same thing, very different meanings, depending on which phrase you choose. And the same is true when you’re talking about patients. I often see materials or hear executives that say a cancer patient or a subject in our clinical trials. And these are human beings that don’t want to be called cancer patients. And so, we can think about the words we choose and say a person diagnosed with cancer or a person enrolled in our clinical study and start to use that language in our communications with each other as a company and our written communications. And it starts to kind of permeate and really put that person at the center of what you’re saying and doing instead of just thinking of them as a subject. So, I think the words we choose is a small thing that can have a huge impact and we get to control that or influence it.
DOUG: Or should control that, that’s great advice. The healthcare PR industry is growing, agency work is growing and there’s a need for more people. What are some of those things prospective candidates, whether they’re looking to get into communications, or they’ve been in communications, but maybe in a different part of the industry or working on different verticals? What should they be thinking if they want to get in healthcare communications and be effective?
KRYSTA: Healthcare communications and PR require similar skill sets to other specialties within public relations. You have to be a strong writer, a strong communicator, be interested in how the media works, and what your interactions with them may be like. Looking around corners, working in ambiguity, I think those skills apply across any industry, but in healthcare, specifically, the folks that I know that have been very successful, there’s a few things that stand out. One is that patient focus. I think also having an interest and curiosity about science. You do not have to be a PhD. I’m not a PhD. Our members of our team are not doctors and scientists, but you do have to have a curiosity and understanding how medicines and devices work because your role will be communicating that in a way that people understand. And so having a passion for that really matters.
DOUG: Creativity is also important, but sometimes people feel because it’s a regulated industry, which it is, that that sort of eliminates creativity. Is creativity still important? And how do you go about being creative within the guardrails?
KRYSTA: Yeah, I think being creative is one of the most important attributes when you’re thinking about being successful in healthcare communications. It is highly regulated and it’s critical that you understand the rules of the road, but being able to work and communicate what we need to within those regulations requires you to have a really creative mind. I think a great example is just communicating about the science and thinking about something very technical, and now how we’re able to use video and animation and other visual tools to communicate how something works. I bet many of us at this point have watched some video on what is mRNA and how it works, and being able to apply our skills creatively and how we communicate is so important. And people who are able to do that can be successful and have a lot of fun doing it too.
DOUG: People often say that it’s a problem to work within social media to try and deliver your message. How do you work within that constraint?
KRYSTA: In my experience, we used to have to make a business case for why we should be on social media. And of course, you should have a business case for anything you’re doing, but we finally have moved past that into accepting that social media is a channel and now it’s less about the why and more about how we do it successfully and do it well. I think this is one of those areas that is a real opportunity if there are PR practitioner’s trends trying to transition into healthcare from another specialty, whether it’s consumer or tech or finance PR because the healthcare field is a little bit behind some others and using social media. And I think that we can learn from PR practitioners in other areas about some best practices, pull that creativity we were talking about onto our teams, and really work together to understand the best practices from those other areas. And we can bring the how to do it in a compliant way and come up with some really great campaigns for our clients.
DOUG: Krysta, I think our viewers, given the advice you’re giving them to get in their health communications, might be interested in your path. How did you get to where you are now?
KRYSTA: I graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree and really just wanted a job. Who’s going to hire me? And I started at a healthcare agency because they had a job. I really fell into it, and I remember in my interviews someone said to me, if you’re not careful, you’ll be niched in healthcare as if it was a bad thing. And 20 plus years later, I feel so fortunate that I fell into healthcare because it’s been such a rewarding career, and I just love what I’m doing. So, I was in a healthcare PR agency. I did go in-house for several years at a Biotech company and then a very large Fortune 500 medical device company. And I was getting into bigger and bigger healthcare companies and really wanted to get in an environment where I was working with smaller, innovative companies that we’re launching and thinking about communications for the first time in that strategic way I was talking about. So, I joined Health+ Commerce. We are a public relations and digital agency, all healthcare. So, 100% percent of our clients are in the healthcare space, primarily medical device, MedTech, and Biotech. And we’re advising, the most senior-level executives in these companies on how to use all of the communications tools available in a creative way to get your story out there to the right audience. And it’s just a lot of fun.
DOUG: The pandemic is focused more intensely on healthcare and healthcare communications. Can you describe what that effect has been if you think it’ll even continue beyond the pandemic?
KRYSTA: I do. I think there’s never been a better time to be in healthcare communications. The pandemic has definitely drawn a lot more attention to all aspects of healthcare, from treatment to health disparities to our own role in the health of ourselves and our community. And so, the need for really clear communications will never go away. Also, it’s just a really hot job market in healthcare communications. And so, while the pandemic has initially resulted in fewer jobs, including, unfortunately, some in communications, we’re definitely not seeing that in the healthcare sector. And so, I think the need will continue to be there. But the other thing I would say is, you hear a lot about this, the great resignation and a lot of people thinking about the meaning of their work and healthcare communications is such a great place to be because we can use the skills that we know as PR practitioners and apply it in an area that has real, meaningful impact in people’s lives. So many people, myself included, that that have spent their careers in healthcare PR have letters in our drawer of patients who sent us note saying thank you so much for this thing you did that helped me get treatment or that I’m still alive and that’s so meaningful. And I just think it will continue to be a field that is exciting and dynamic and innovative and a hot job market well beyond the pandemic.
DOUG: Yeah, and that’s also said the growth of healthcare startups, whether they’re in tech health or otherwise. And that’s an area that your firm also has a specialty in. What’s some advice for health companies looking to get on the radar to get on the map with what they’re doing from a communications standpoint?
KRYSTA: Yeah, I think communications is critical if you are a company trying to launch into the space. Lots of companies are out there raising money and it’s not that unusual now to see an IPO or even a Series A that is 500 million dollars or more. And you may be a smaller company raising a smaller amount of money, but you still want and deserve a lot of attention from whoever your key audiences are. And so, communications can really play a role in that and helping get your story out there. It’s a competitive space, and you have to figure out creative ways to have your story told. I think the key is doing it strategically. I definitely do not subscribe to Vanity PR where I just, get us on the news. It’s really important that you understand the company, the business objective, who that audience is, you’re trying to reach. Sometimes it’s not patients. If you’re an early-stage company launching, maybe it’s an investor. And so, understanding the value of being on Good Morning America versus Stat versus an Ophthalmology Times and what each of those can do for you and putting together a communications strategy to really help you meet your objective, which may not just be broad consumer awareness, but more of that that targeted message to the right audience, just like other fields of public relations.
DOUG: Krysta, I think that’s some great advice and input for our viewers. Thanks so much for participating.
KRYSTA: Thank you.