Spurwing speaks to Paul Barrett on communications trends in healthcare and agriculture

Paul Barrett, Group Lead Transaction Communications at Novartis International, visited the Spurwing office while in Singapore. Jonathan Parry, Account Director, talked to Paul about the forces influencing today’s communications landscape and the trends shaping the healthcare and agriculture sectors.

1. What are the emerging trends in healthcare? How are they impacting communications?

For most of our history, average life expectancy was about 40 years. Many children died before the age of five and most people had short lives marked by illness. But in the early 1900s, modern medicine and the pharmaceutical industry became important catalysts for life expectancy to increase exponentially.

Today, biomedical innovation is, arguably, outperforming other sectors in pursuit of some of the holy grails of healthcare – transformative therapies that will have a profound impact on patients, and society as a whole. These innovations are and will be supported by innovative access and value-focused payment models and will be powered by data and digital technologies.

It’s clearly a unique time to be a healthcare communicator. That said, profound innovation demands compelling communications and storytelling - authentic, data-driven, audience focused, content rich, multichannel, executed quickly and cost-effectively, with clear deliverables and measurable outcomes. Just keeping up with customer and audience demands is a huge challenge.

On pricing, we have to think differently about the nature of innovation in order to deliver what customers and patients truly value.

Also, to manage growing demand and new innovation, health systems have to do something more radical, like shift to value-based care to eradicate huge waste in healthcare spending.

Novartis is at the forefront of this movement and looks at value as follows: medical value, patient value, system value and societal value.

The opportunity that value-based pricing offers from a communications perspective is to be positioned as part of a solution rather than the problem around drug pricing, which is traditionally a challenging and intractable societal debate. The key is to have examples and stories to illustrate that real progress is being made.

Digital transformation and technologies are changing how health systems deliver care, and how we serve patients. There are opportunities right across the patient journey, from disease prevention, to faster clinical trials, to better monitoring of disease progression. Digital technologies as being integrated into everything, from using sensors and wearables in clinical trials to capturing robust data in real-time, to utilizing predictive analytics and machine learning to mine data to help inform the decisions.

In communications, we face a more existential challenge if we don’t embrace digital transformation in our own work. We are, with few exceptions, laggards in the adoption of the data-driven solutions and digital tools that can make us smarter, more agile, collaborative and impactful. It’s clear that becoming digital by design won’t for much longer be a choice. The potential benefits are huge. We can seize opportunities along the way to shape, lead and contribute. Very importantly, our work will also be more visible and its value more readily apparent to our leaders, and the wider organization.

2. Here in Asia, many companies and corporate leaders talk about the region’s growth potential. From a global perspective, where is the opportunity in healthcare?

There are immense opportunities in healthcare as demand rises globally. Deloitte, for example, estimates that global health care expenditure will increase at an annual rate of 5.4% between 2017-2022, from US$7.724 trillion to US$10.059 trillion.

In Asia, it’s difficult to look past China, with a population of 1.4 billion it has huge potential as a healthcare market. The “Healthy China” initiative supports the creation of a modern healthcare system by giving access to advanced therapies and medical innovation. The challenge for China is to keep pace with the dynamic changes in the healthcare industry. It can stay ahead of these developments by supporting innovation, easing the adoption of digital technologies, and accelerating access to the newest treatments.

China is also developing as a true centre of medical discovery. For example, Novartis opened its research center in Shanghai over 10 years ago, and invested US$1 billion to make it state of the art. Today, there are hundreds of scientists working to find new therapies for diseases that affect the Chinese people and potentially the global population.

3. In a world plagued by fake news and growing distrust of institutions, how can communicators help multi-national companies establish positive reputations?

This is a huge topic. There’s only so much we can do as communicators to change perceptions. In the end, it is about the consistent action of institutions and leaders. We must counsel our leaders against making hollow statements or inauthentic actions. In our “woke” world contradiction or failing to deliver on promises will come back to bite us.

That said, the environment is shifting, with the recent US Business Roundtable announcement where 181 CEOs pledged to put more emphasis on corporate purpose to serve society as whole – not just the interests of shareholders. This gives us an opportunity to help tell the stories that show companies can do good in the world while still making a healthy profit.

4. What are the most powerful approaches for good communications today?

Authentic, data-driven, audience focused, content rich, multichannel, executed quickly and cost-effectively, with clear deliverables and measurable outcomes.

5. If you were to give one piece of advice for communicators, what would it be?

Be relentlessly curious. Extend your knowledge and contribution to your company or client beyond communications – be comfortably speaking the language of finance, HR, legal, R&D etc. Always be surprising and creative while leveraging data insights to show ideas are executable and outcomes will be measurable.

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