December 20, 2023

Predictions for healthcare communications in 2024

Predictions for healthcare communications in 2024

It is the law that we can’t call ourselves an agency if we don’t issue our predictions on the trends that will shape healthcare communications in 2024. And so here we are – these are the things we think will shape the healthcare communications landscape next year.

Trends rarely spring from nowhere, so it should be no surprise that a number of our trend predictions appeared in some form in our article focused on corporate communications from early 2023 Five trends that will impact corporate communications programmes in pharma and biotech in 2023 – Curious Health.

AI – A force for collaboration or competition?

The world of Generative AI has grown at a rapid speed that has never been seen before and is set to continue growing in 2024. We are now dealing with technology that represents a truly transformative force that is challenging traditional ways of working whilst also revolutionising various aspects of our lives in ways we are only beginning to grasp. We’re sure you feel the same as us: excited but a bit anxious too! In the PR and communications world, concerns about AI replacing human roles persist, however, there is still a need for human involvement in managing and collaborating with AI, especially when it comes to prompt engineering, and where the task at hand requires genuine emotions, empathy, and nuanced problem-solving. These are all areas where AI falls short.

It all comes down to ‘Collaboration’, not ‘Competition’, as the now famous saying goes: “AI isn’t going to replace you. Someone who knows how to use AI will.” An early adoption and upskilling yourself and your team on AI is a must especially when it comes to prompt engineering. Prompts are the instructions or questions you give ChatGPT to get a response and are fundamental to generative AI. The quality of the answers you receive will depend on how well you frame your question.

At Curious Health Communications Ltd we are using AI to automate and streamline workflows to free up time to focus on more strategic thinking, relationship building and creative work. Our advice is to embrace the change, explore new ideas, experiment, test, and continuously train the AI tools you are using, keep learning, and try again! But, before you start working with AI, it is important to understand the limitations, challenges, and potential downfalls of its applications:

1: AI-generated content isn’t always original. Due to the training of large language models on pre-existing content, there is a possibility that anything it “creates” might actually be a reproduction of someone else’s original work or intellectual property. (1)

2. AI-generated content lacks critical human thinking. AI is still in its infancy and is only as good as the data it feeds on and the humans giving it feedback. (2)

3. AI trained on inaccurate information can reinforce biases and stereotypes, or produce content that is deceptive or entirely untrue. This highlights the importance of PR and communications teams in maintaining vigilance via social listening. (3)

AI also poses possible risks to privacy, fairness, transparency, and equality, underscoring the need for a principled approach to ensure a responsible application of AI in the PR and communications sector. (4)

Now moving on to the latest AI news … Google recently rolled out its biggest AI model yet!  Gemini seems to be a multitasking genius. This makes it especially good at making sense of complex written and visual information making it uniquely skilled at uncovering knowledge that can be difficult to discern amid vast amounts of data. Google is integrating Gemini into its products too. Bard will use a fine-tuned version of Gemini Pro to level up in reasoning, planning, understanding, and more. This upgrade is like giving Bard a turbo boost, making it the most impressive version since its debut. (6)

Will TikTok be the next search engine? For some, yes!

Once the “new kid on the block” of social platforms, TikTok wasn’t taken very seriously at first by health marketers – but that’s all changed. It’s no longer just for your niece who’s looking for dance challenges and her next viral Starbucks order but is in fact becoming a favoured search engine among key consumers. A recent survey in the US found that 40% of 18-24 year-olds prefer to make web searches on visual platforms like TikTok and Instagram. (5)

Why the shift from classic search engines like Google and Bing? TikTok provides a low-friction, immersive experience for users, providing first-hand, real-life experiences in a concise way. With the platform’s proprietary algorithm, it’s serving up hyper-personalised content that feels relevant to users, tailored to their interests and location, and coming from people the audience feels they can trust – even if that’s not always the case in reality. What does this mean for health brands? TikTok needs to be embraced as part of their digital PR strategy for 2024. Partnering with influencers and key opinion leaders on the platform to create engaging and informative content can help steer audiences away from the health misinformation that’s on the platform and ensure the right information is showing up in their feeds from faces they trust. Optimising content for TikTok’s search feature and the way that users search, find, and interact with content will also be key for success.

Compliance concerns? Despite the rapidly changing nature of the platform, there are still a number of ways to create compliant TikTok campaigns that educate without sacrificing the kind of content that inspires, particularly if your agency keeps up-to-date with recent guidance and TikTok’s best practices and algorithm updates.

The misinformation epidemic and health inequity will worsen, and pharma needs to step up

In 2024, the health communications landscape will be standing at a critical juncture, where the surge of misinformation intersects with the stark reality of growing health inequities. It’s a vicious circle: people with lower rates of health literacy have been shown to be more susceptible to misinformation, and this in turn can affect patient empowerment and their ability to make informed decisions about their health, further widening health inequalities.

People are increasingly turning to social media and AI to find answers to their health concerns, and online misinformation has the potential to travel further, faster and sometimes deeper than the truth. The challenge is set to intensify due to factors such as conspiracy thinking, religiosity, racial minority status and social media use – which research has suggested amplifying the susceptibility to misinformation. A recent Superdrug survey of 2,000 social media users revealed 42% found TikTok to be the most accessible platform for health content, and yet 59% admitted seeing misleading health information on the platform. Is technology to blame for the problem, then? Not just, as 1 million people in the UK, mainly in rural areas, still do not have internet access and are experiencing a very different form of exclusion. Wealth and health are strongly connected according to the latest Foresight Factory Trending 2024 report. Uptake of wellness activities and perceptions of health vary widely across different income groups, at the advantage of those with higher household incomes, those in the family lifestage and young men.

Yet, health inequalities are avoidable. As Governments are forced to trim health investments, fighting the misinformation epidemic and the growing health inequities isn’t just a moral imperative. In 2024, the pharma industry will need to step up to bridge the gap and reach those most in need.

VPAS 2.0: The impact of VPAG will be felt by companies and patients

As 2023 started winding down the much-maligned VPAS has evolved into VPAG, otherwise known as the new “Voluntary Scheme for Pricing Access and Growth”, and the new scheme kicks in from January. We all know that VPAS has been pretty unpopular, and while the early years (2019-2021) were stable in terms of rebates from industry, the impact of the Covid-19 spike in drug sales and resulting increase in payback signalled a phase of unpredictability and anxiety in the sector.

The conversation around VPAS/VPAG speaks to one of the thorniest issues that faces our sector: how do we balance the needs of industry and support growth and innovation, while also ensuring the NHS can predict and manage medicines budgets?

What do you need to know about VPAG? There are two headlines: firstly, companies will pay differential rebates depending on their portfolio (this is a change from VPAS); secondly rebate percentages are unlikely to drop to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2027/2028. Some feel that the new plans will be highly damaging to the UK life sciences sector, and to patients’ access to medicines.

And for agencies such as ours we think it’s fair to say we will continue to see an emphasis on cost-containment and providing value for money when every penny is being carefully watched.

Economical experimentation needs to be protected

Everyone we compare our experiences of 2023 with mentions the ‘B word’. Or lack-there-of. Budgets are under more scrutiny that ever before. This can mean in-house and agency teams must work harder than ever to demonstrate impact and value.  Budget holders are looking for more certainty of spend versus outcome and this will continue into 2024.

Whilst accepting that demonstrating the value of communications is important, there is a risk that the already hard-to-fight for experiment or innovative approach becomes almost impossible.

Experimenting means that we might fail. However, if we’re not experimenting with different approaches, we’re not progressing and creating a competitive advantage for health companies.

For health communicators, this can be navigated by practicing Economical Experimentation. Here’s what we mean by this:

·       Use existing data, benchmarking and experience from other sectors to ensure it is a well-researched experiment

·       Apply a test and learn approach so that spend is released at different milestones of the experiment.  Agree surrogate markers for success along the journey.  Each milestone has the opportunity to look at progress, learnings and make a decision on whether to proceed to the next phase

·       At the end of the experiment, evaluate the outcome, learnings and how these can be applied across other projects in the business. Determine its value based on both of these elements

·       Above all, always make sure the intention is right. Is this to meet a genuine stakeholder need (and not to win a Cannes Lion)?

Despite the VPAG situation and our own experience in 2023, we would like to ring a note of optimism for 2024, curtesy of WARC. Their Marketing Toolkit 2024 reports that marketers are optimistic about the year ahead. Forty-one percent of marketers believe that budgets will increase in 2024. Perhaps driven by the understanding that slashing marketing budgets is not the most effective way to manage economic uncertainty.

Here ends our healthcare communications predictions for 2024 but we’ll leave the last word to the unparalleled Rob Mayhew poking fun at agencies doing their Trends predictions.






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