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The New Healthcare Playing Field

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Summary: Healthcare leaders may be thinking globally, but they are also looking ahead to consider the need for local coalitions, partnerships, temporary industry groups, and cross-industry organizations for the years ahead. Communicators skilled in arranging these coalitions, partnerships, and working groups will thrive in this environment.

Where do we look to for guidance in the coming years as healthcare faces its largest overhaul yet?
This is a new era for the healthcare communications industry, in which change is so rapid that many are not certain of what the result will be. The third-party payers, drug benefits managers, stakeholder groups, and patients who influence market access have all but obliterated the comfortable old triad of patient-doctor-pharmacist. The only certainty is change (yet what is ahead is so uncertain!).
 
The reasons for this change are numerous, but primarily, there appears to be worldwide consensus—reached long ago in Canada—that controlling healthcare costs is in the interests of the state, that corporations can influence this large cost item and those employees can ultimately benefit. This is a seismic change for all communications professionals. It makes healthcare communications in part a function of government relations where PR plays a large role.


 
In addition, in the United States, the world's largest pharmaceutical market, past presidents’ initiatives to place healthcare squarely on the public agenda may have lost the battle but won the war. Although legislation from such past presidents as Bill Clinton failed, it produced consensus that something was wrong and needed to be fixed, a characteristic American motivation for new laws.
 
In addition, there have been huge corporate mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare field, which also influence future opportunities for communicators. Merck, the perennial market leader, signaled the nature of the new era so dramatically when it acquired Medco, a managed-care company. Then Eli Lilly purchased PDS, a pharmacy benefit company, Hoffman-La Roche bought Syntex, SmithKline purchased Diversified, Kodak sold Sterling Drugs, and now Sandoz owns Gerber Baby Products. Almost every leading firm in the field is considering its own future organization and how it will meet these new challenges.
 
Healthcare leaders may be thinking globally, but they are also looking ahead to consider the need for local coalitions, partnerships, temporary industry groups, and cross-industry organizations for the years ahead. Working together with governments, stakeholder groups, hospitals, third-party payers, and other players in the same product sector was not standard practice in the past—but it is now. Communicators skilled in arranging these coalitions, partnerships, and working groups will thrive in this environment.
 
Science graduates certainly have an advantage in dealing with their counterparts in pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. But humanities-oriented students should also seriously consider the field. Healthcare will always be a growth field in need of individuals to explain scientific findings and terms to a general audience. And that is where the future of healthcare public relations lies. It is no different from any other technical field except that the rewards of providing better health can be significant to the individual practitioner.
 
See the following articles for more information:
 
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