2022 has thrown up three big trends that will continue into 2023. These are: the ongoing crisis in the NHS, changes in IT policy and leadership, and a mutating media landscape. Highland Marketing co-founders Mark and Susan Venables consider what they mean for marketing, PR and communications in the year ahead.

It can be difficult to make predictions for the year ahead – but not this year. It’s easy to pick out the trends that will impact on health tech and communications over the next 12 months, because we are already living them.

For example, it is hardly a prediction to say the NHS will be under enormous pressure in 2023. Ambulance and hospital trusts were at the highest level of alert in the run-up to Christmas, even before nurses and ambulance workers struck, and there’s no reason to think demand will let up anytime soon.

At the same time, waiting lists have been growing by 100,000 per month since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, while NHS finances have deteriorated as inflation has risen. Unless there’s another change of government, or a big switch in policy, there’s no reason to think these trends will be reversed, either. 

Communicating in a crisis

This backdrop of unprecedented stress has implications for tech companies that want to work with health and social care. Suppliers need to recognise that the NHS is facing a crisis and engage with that in their marketing and communications activity.

We see a lot of digital innovators pitching their products and services on the basis that they will “transform” health and care, or “delight” clinicians, or “empower” patients. Of course, they may do all these things, particularly over the longer-term.

But the feedback we get from NHS IT leaders is that they want honest and straightforward communication that shows suppliers understand what they are up against and lasers in on a problem or problems that they can resolve – right now.

So, in 2023, we would re-emphasise the advice that we’ve always given, which is that to succeed in digital health, you need to be clear about the specific issue or issues that your solution can, and how you address them, and how your approach stands-out from the rest.

Plus, you need to be able to back-up what you are saying, by getting your customers to endorse you, or running good data collection projects that prove the business case delivered. And then you need to get that information to the right people, in the right format, to secure their attention.

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Responding to a changing NHS  

Another easy prediction for the year ahead is that there will be further changes to the structure of the NHS and its IT leadership. NHS England will complete its merger with NHS Digital in January, ushering in a new team at the transformation directorate to push ahead with the Frontline Digitisation programme.

Trusts are being encouraged to form provider groups with neighbouring organisations, which could have significant implications for infrastructure and electronic patient record decisions. And integrated care boards, which have only just started work, are being encouraged to rationalise and share services, including IT strategies and assets, to save costs.

This level of churn impacts health tech companies, because it makes it harder to work out who to talk to, where they sit in the decision tree, and whether they have the budget authority to progress an idea. Also, at a very practical level, it means that NHS IT leaders are just incredibly busy.

We see health tech companies putting together traditional event and PR campaigns, in the hope that IT professionals will take time out from their day jobs to engage with them. When what we hear is that professionals want content that is targeted at a few, key shows and must-read publications.

In 2023, we expect to be supporting fewer companies at conferences and expos that require one, two, or more days away from the office – and to be running a lot more webinars that people can attend from their desks or watch in their own time.

Reacting to a changing media

A third trend that we have seen in 2022 and we expect to continue into 2023 is changes in the media landscape that is available to digital innovators. The number of health and IT publications that still work to print runs has been declining for years, but now websites are under pressure.

Traditional advertising budgets shrank during Covid-19 and have never recovered. Sales and editorial teams have shrunk in line, leaving sites looking for new ways to fund themselves and to acquire content that doesn’t require editorial input.

Increasingly, we are advising clients to put aside a budget for paid content, and to think creatively about how that can be used to create case studies, opinion pieces, and other items that are credible for sites and compelling for readers.

At the same time, we see clients taking control of their own communications, and asking us for advice on how to create blogs (in written, audio or video format) that can be promoted on social media and linked back to a well-crafted website or campaign micro-site.

2023 checklist:

What does that all mean for health tech and communications in 2023? Well, our top tips would be:

  • Keep on top of the latest changes to the finance, policy and structure of the NHS – and make sure you are ready to respond to any new IT programmes or opportunities that arise.
  • Recognise that the NHS has never been under more pressure – and adjust your marketing and communications to respond to that.
  • Be clear about the problems your technology can address, how it addresses them, and how you stand out from the competition – and find the customers and data to prove it.
  • Think creatively about how to get your message out – and think about the role of paid and self-published content, backed up by social media.
  • Find the right help and support – look for an agency that really understands health tech, and can help you say the right things, to the right people, at the right time, first time.
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