New research released this week has found that 800,000 women each year are needlessly dying from cancer globally because they don’t have equitable access to healthcare. While access is always multi-faceted and complex, this research prompted me to think about the communication lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic blew open the realities of inequitable access to optimal care around the world. A constructive takeaway from the hardships for so many, was the public and private sector efforts to adopt more inclusive messaging on health information to reach all segments of a multicultural and diverse Australia. As a communicator working in health, a stark lesson was the responsibility we have to ensure we contribute to improved health outcomes for everyone.
The business case for achieving health equity has never been more evident. Besides extending the populations served by a particular product or solution, a focus on health equity can also enhance an organisation’s brand and reputation by building trust and showcasing good citizenship.
To underpin health equity as a strategic communications priority, we need to consider a variety of factors:
- Dig into the data. For many health conditions, examining epidemiology data will quickly identify highly impacted communities. Understanding these facts can ground communication efforts on the right channels and help identify which voices to leverage. A strategy that starts with highly impacted, marginalised groups will often offer the potential to scale up the successful activities, as opposed to a trickle-down approach adopted from a campaign aimed at the dominant culture.
- Capture the realities of intersectional lives. We all have overlapping social identities that impact our worldview and our health behaviours. Relying solely on digital listening tools to uncover insights on an audience’s conversations may mean missing nuances like who is doing the talking. Supplementing digital listening with direct community engagement through surveys, focus groups and interviews will give a clearer picture of key barriers and drivers. A combination of these delivers powerful insights from which to build communications strategies that connect with audiences across multiple patient journeys and health information touchpoints.
- Language. Australians speak more than 300 different languages. We know that direct translation of English content is not always appropriate. Ideally, messages for certain groups should be built with their input, taking cultural considerations into account. This presents another opportunity to engage directly to help shape campaign language and reduce biases for better impact and effect.
- Channel mix and representative creative. Investing in the right insights will also assist in developing a channel mix that makes sense for each audience. For example, to reach specific communities with dementia messaging, we might lean on Facebook for white Baby Boomers, but WhatsApp is likely to be more effective in reaching second-generation Middle Eastern communities. Across these channels and with community input, we might develop creative applications that are more representative s and, in doing so, get the cultural tone right to create a more emotional connection to the storytelling.
The challenge of health inequities is an invitation to get out of our comfort zones to expand experiences, challenge critical thinking skills, and create new pathways. I can’t think of a better purpose for coming to work.