Congress Keynotes

General public healthcare communication: an open opportunity!

1 out of 20 searches on internet relate to healthcare

It’s not a scoop: for several years healthcare has been top-ranked on the list of people’s daily concerns. 

A survey carried out in 28 member states by the European Commission1 (within the framework of its eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020) aimed to evaluate to what extent Europeans already use internet to manage their health, and to discern potential obstacles to adopting eHealth strategies.

According to this survey, approximately 80% of 15 to 39-year-olds use internet to search for information on healthcare! They look for information with a view to improving their general health, as well as for details relating to specific health conditions, notably to help identify symptoms. 

On top of that, information gathered on internet has a real impact on the patients’ health programme. Indeed, the survey reveals that 40% make a medical appointment after having read up on the concern, and 35% self-administer treatment or adopt a healthier lifestyle.  

More than ever patients want to understand and govern their health, and use ultra-connectivity like never before to play a central role in their own healthcare. But from where do they obtain the information?

Reliability of medical sources: an unresolved cause for concern

The press and websites related to general public healthcare, dedicated blogs and forums, social networks, official health organisms, mobile applications and patient associations are listed as the main sources for those looking for information. What about scientific societies? They are not ranked, and this offers them an open opportunity!

Physicians evidently work in a society of information and communication. Although the European Charter of Medical Ethics strictly forbids the use of publicity, it strongly encourages physicians to keep the general public informed on health matters, so long as the information is based on factual data. « It must be cautious, precise, clear, and conform to valid scientific facts ».

The reliability of the internet sources is variable. Physicians and their scientific societies remain the best source of reference to combat the abundance of approximative, subjective or commercial information to be found online and in magazines, and that create much confusion among patients.  

At the core of public health concerns is the desire to develop prevention and early diagnostic of certain diseases. For the general public, however, it is a domain uncovered by scientific societies… and that the GAFAM don’t hesitate to take on!

Launched in 2015, Google’s « Knowledge Graph » is a module which presents « reliable » health information to internet users in a dedicated infobox when they search online. Google associated itself with physicians and the Mayo Clinic, amongst others, to compile online information and verify its quality. Since 2016, the tool even enables internet users to identify their pathology by entering their symptoms in the search engine.

Congresses and scientific publications, which are central to scientific society activities, provide healthcare professionals with valuable tools. Henceforth, how to create discourse that is comprehensible and of use to the general public? Providing public access to reliable, ethical medical information is a challenge that can be won.


How can it be done?

Danielle Maloubier, president of the Parisian press agency PRPA which has specialised in healthcare communication for 25 years, manages media relations for institutions, industries and patient associations. She states:

« The key factors for successful general public communication lie with clear objectives that fall within a determined overall strategy. Precise and verified information must bring new content and perspectives, concern the general public’s health, and be duly communicated in a pedagogical, illustrated and practical fashion. It is also important to gain the support of renowned spokespersons who are readily available for any queries from the media and can provide examples of clinical trials and patient experiences. »

Every public announcement can benefit from multi-channel distribution: professional and general public media (magazines, national and regional newspapers, web portals, radio, TV) as well as on social media. In this case, the services of an agency can prove very useful in order to secure and optimise one’s media exposure, and activate the right networks of journalists and influencers.

Content communication can also be managed directly by the scientific society, for whom the key to success will lie in providing the public with what it needs, by analysing:

  • What information the general public is looking for?
  • How the scientific society can be of most use?
  • Whether the information provided is pertinent, easy to read and comprehensible?
  • Whether any actions are suggested?

For many organisms and scientific societies, becoming the general public media’s reference in their field brings great benefits and allows their voice to be heard more frequently by new audiences, increasing their outreach.

It reinforces the notion of leading reference among other groups too, such as institutions or political bodies.

If you wish to learn more about how your scientific society can establish a general public communication strategy, our press agency PRPA will be delighted to advise you.


1.    Flash Eurobarometer 404, EU Commission, Summary. Led by TNS Political & Social


Article written in collaboration with:

Danielle Maloubier
PrPa Agency