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Five Things Learnt From Healthcare Communications

15/04/2013 14:26 BST | Updated 14/06/2013 10:12 BST

My barber asked me, "What do you do?" There's a short answer, which is "PR and communications for the hospital" and there's a very long one. The short one is usually fine.

There isn't an awful lot of detailed, first-hand information around on what hospital PR and communications is like for those working in it, which I found surprising when trying to get into this 18 months ago. Essentially, the team is either promoting or protecting, whether its through media coverage, journalism for use both internally and externally, strategy or social media. It all centres around reputation and ultimately, patient care.

Better patient care is always the goal, regardless of how non-clinical what we're doing is.

This is for anyone interested in getting into hospital communications. I'm still only getting started myself, but I'm lucky to have some of the best managers and teachers there are, to help me realise the following.

1. People appreciate a plan. That applies to most people, but I'm talking about clinicians; doctors and nurses. Their priority is treating patients. Your priority is to make happen anything that will help them do that more effectively.

2. Involve them from the start. You have a plan all worked up, you've done your research and you can see exactly how this is going to pan out. Wait. Unless you're also a surgeon or a nurse of 25 years, you're going to lack expertise. Your job is to facilitate, not to dictate. Involving the experts from day one makes life so much easier for everyone.

3. Repeat things. Some are better than others, but for all their goodwill, a lot of very clinical people still speak a very confusing [technical] language. When a doctor says:

"We're using intensity-modulated radiotherapy and stereotactic techniques to target malignant neoplasms in suitable patients" say this: "You're using advanced techniques to treat cancer that are safer, more precise and less invasive for patients? Is that right?"

At this point, doing this is entirely for your own benefit. If you don't understand it, you can't communicate it. Do not worry. You will not look stupid.

4. What you learn will surprise you. You can spend weeks looking at websites and textbooks trying to find out what chemotherapy is all about, or you can talk to a nurse. For your sake, and that of your project, the best place to get the information you need to move forward, is from the people you're doing the work for.

5. You'll be many things. A planner, an advisor, a creative and a journalist. Usually, you'll be all of them at once. They are your tools, and it's up to you to figure out which is the right one to get the job done.

I can't tell you much more, because I don't know much more yet, but those are the rules I live by.