How NHS could benefit from proactive public health alerts

By Kathy Kyle, Digital Communications Consultant, GovDelivery

A recent BBC article explores how the National Health Service (NHS) has spent £13 million on public relations and whether the Trust and the public is receiving value for money. Some NHS Trusts have commented that the use of PR firms is necessary to educate the public on health issues, especially with regard to high-profile public health campaigns.

There is no doubt that when it comes to public health, proactive, timely, and targeted communications can raise awareness, prevent illness, and inform the public, keeping them safe and healthy. Whether it is a campaign regarding healthier healthchoices around smoking, caffeine, or alcohol, an urgent international health crisis, or every day communications with the public to keep them healthy and safe, the value of proactive communications can – and should be – evaluated. Government healthcare organisations and institutions can be much more effective with digital communications by measuring reach, engagement, and in-person visits. This not only bolsters public trust in the system and saves funds, but can dramatically improve healthcare outcomes.

NHS communications staff can potentially demonstrate the return on its digital investment on a campaign basis by measuring any correlation between the reduction of reported illnesses, office visits, and avoidable contact and the increases in the number of people subscribed to digital communications, engagement rates with digital messages, web traffic, and social media follows.

Instead of focusing funds and efforts primarily on PR campaigns, NHS could complement its outreach efforts by maximising direct connections with the public using an integrated digital communications platform. This kind of platform is available at a fraction of the cost of hiring an external PR firm. GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM) is one system that has been successfully used for proactive public health programmes in the United States by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centres for Disease Control (CDC), and many state Departments of Health – as well as in the UK by the Health Safety Executive (HSE), Health Protection Agency (HPA), Department of Health, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). These government institutions and organisations are directly connecting, educating, informing and engaging the public without spending a fortune – and their internal staff are easily managing the message and the process.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s goals include safeguarding public health by ensuring that the products they regulate meet required standards, that the products work and that they are acceptably safe. From a communications perspective, MHRA must ensure accurate, timely and authoritative information is provided to healthcare professionals, patients and the public.

MHRA uses GovDelivery DCM to send nearly 28 million messages to opt-in subscribers; more than 50,000 stakeholders around the UK have self-subscribed through the Agency’s email alerting service. MHRA must ensure a high message delivery rate due to the time-sensitive and potentially life-saving nature of its alerts. communityIf you’ve ever had to ensure that a message was delivered quickly, with metrics to ensure it was delivered, you know how difficult this can be to manage in-house. There could be serious consequences if messages are delayed in reaching pharmacists, physicians and the public. By partnering with GovDelivery, MHRA leverages GovDelivery’s active management of relationships with all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on behalf of over 550 public sector entities worldwide. MHRA is then assured a high deliverability rate, and MHRA communications staff can spend their time engaging directly with constituents, ensuring potentially life-saving, time sensitive medical and drug-related messages are delivered, instead of troubleshooting why messages are caught in filters and flagged as spam. View the complete MHRA success story.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a $941B organisation with over 65,000 staff, invests in health care, disease prevention, social services, and scientific research. HHS was already reaching a large audience through its use of GovDelivery email alert subscriptions, when the H1N1 pandemic flu outbreak threatened the United States. HHS needed to reach the largest audience possible to ensure individuals were kept informed and safe.

Email subscriptions to information increased more than ten times the normal rate due to higher interest as well as collaboration with CDC and other partners in the GovDelivery Network. Average new subscribers exceeded 3,000 per day versus the previously established average of 215. Over one million email alerts were sent to subscribers at their request regarding H1N1. Emails included “Share This” links with content being repurposed and shared over 120 times via social media channels. HHS also cross-promoted the email alert service with social media networks. Twitter links embedded in email alerts generated more than 10,000 clicks and helped boost HHS’s Twitter followers. View the entire HHS success story.

The difference between proactive digital communications and a PR campaign without measurable impact has more than just financial repercussions. Now more than ever, investments in communications must be made with the goal of building and sustaining public trust and health.

Kathy Kyle
Digital Communications Consultant, GovDelivery

Kathy can be reached at or on Twitter @bonominiyogini.

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