<strong>Four Ways to Make Sure Your Communications Efforts Are Advancing Health Equity</strong>.
Words are powerful. They bring meaning to abstract ideas, connect people, and even save lives. Words can also engender positive change in society, like advancing health equity for historically marginalized communities. Health inequities are formed and sustained by deeply entrenched social systems that prevent people from reaching their full health potential — but changing the way we communicate will play a key role in helping to eliminate injustice.
April is National Minority Health Month (NMHM), serving as a reminder that we must continue to recognize and address these inequities. Recent data show that American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN), Black, and Hispanic populations have all experienced disproportionate rates of illness and death from COVID-19. But even before the pandemic, people of color fared worse across a range of health measures, including infant mortality, pregnancy-related deaths, chronic conditions, and overall physical and mental health status.
At the same time, companies are being held to higher standards than ever before. In recent years, the defined purpose of a corporation has transformed to reflect increasing corporate responsibility expectations and movement away from shareholder primacy. This is a double bottom line — simply put, what’s good for society is also good for business.
As a result of this confluence of factors, many healthcare companies are rapidly accelerating their own efforts to help advance health equity — with communications being absolutely critical in doing so. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, CVS, and Pfizer communicate transparently by initiating conversations, listening to communities, and remaining accountable for following through on their health equity initiatives.
Here are four tips for healthcare companies to advance health equity with their communications.
1 - Build Trust
People consume about 34 gigabytes of information each day, but disinformation has led to a widespread loss of trust in medical science and public health institutions — between 2020 and 2021, there was an 8% decrease in media trust worldwide. This wariness is magnified around communications from healthcare companies because for so long, these same companies have contributed both intentionally and unintentionally to the very same inequities that impact people today. A recent study showed that 73% of Black Americans and 49% of Hispanic Americans were more likely to report mistrust in health professionals than their White counterparts, highlighting the need for healthcare companies to first focus on rebuilding trust before attempting to engage these communities.
For an authentic communications strategy, ensure it encompasses building positive relationships with trusted community figures, being consistent with your messaging, providing helpful insights and information rather than recycling aimless content, and facilitating a two-way dialogue. Most importantly, your actions must reflect your words — delivering on promises made is the best way to affirm your trustworthiness.
2 - Customize Your Approach With Cultural Competence
Communication is not a one-size-fits-all approach — different populations experience different health inequities, and particular attention is needed when developing content to avoid misinformation, confusion, or loss of credibility. Even within a single community, different messaging may be needed to account for distinct subpopulations, so bringing in the right voices can help make your communications more engaging and impactful.
Cultural competency is a commitment to self-evaluation and critique meant to develop mutual understanding and redress power imbalances between different cultures. Dominant narratives shape our thoughts and assessments of the world and can emerge when we form our perceptions of other cultures. So engaging community members in all stages of communication development ensures your materials will remain unbiased.
Cultural competency is also creating a shared space for community members that is responsive to their lived experiences. By using language that is accessible and meaningful, taking time to listen to and learn about a community’s health needs, and diversifying your teams to reflect the populations you are communicating with, you can ensure that your communications are catered to your audience’s priorities and defined by the community itself.
3 - Discover New Ways to Reach Communities
You can enhance the reach of your messaging by using effective channels, languages, and formats that meet your audience where they are, not where you want them to be. While it is common for companies to talk about health equity in journals, publications, or conferences, we must consider whether these platforms are accessible enough to include community members in the conversation.
Not everyone gets their information from the same place, so it’s vital to account for lack of broadband technology, language barriers, and levels of e-literacy when developing your communications. Instead of only considering digital platforms like social media, TV, and the internet, consider how information is shared via community gatherings, religious centers, flyers, radio, and more. Historically marginalized communities not getting information in a way that is relevant to them precludes health equity, so improve the accessibility of your communications by going into communities, asking questions, and learning where you can share your messaging to meaningfully engage your audience.
4 - Recognize the Power in Collaboration
Language, needs, and communities evolve, and keeping health equity in mind when communicating is just one step towards making it a reality. Collaborate with others, share your knowledge, and constantly look for new ways to connect with historically marginalized communities. With humility comes the ability to see where you can do more, and the only way to find out a community’s priorities is by listening. Strengthening ties between healthcare companies and advocacy groups promoting racial, economic, and social justice is critical for developing a narrative that observes the impact of social and political inequalities.
Similarly, it is not for the advantaged in society to “empower” communities with their communications. Rather, you can tailor your messaging in hopes of breaking down unjust systems of power and oppression, shaping institutional policies, and offering solutions for improving the health outcomes of communities made vulnerable by health inequities.
Developing your communications strategy with health equity at its core is essential to improving health outcomes for all communities and ensuring your company establishes long-term value.
This piece was co-developed by Managing Director & Healthcare Practice Lead Lisa Josephy, Vice President Jenny Wang, and Content Specialist Rojahne Azwoir. As a purpose-driven company, Clyde Group is always looking for ways to help advance the health and wellness of all communities, especially those that have historically been underserved.