With warmer months on the horizon and millions of Americans vaccinated, there is a sense of hope for brighter days ahead. For some, it might mean seeing family, for others, maybe it’s a trip that has been put on hold. But as this notion of a “new normal” is slowly introduced, how will it impact our healthcare system? Will Zoom and MDLive become a standard of care? Will outpatient surgery centers be preferred?

Before we can look forward, let’s take a moment to look back. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of our country in early 2020, we were faced with dramatic shifts in our healthcare system. We could no longer visit loved ones in the hospital, elective surgeries were cancelled and masks were mandatory for patients and doctors alike. We are now accustomed to numerous questions and a temperature check upon entering medical offices.

Ironically, the healthcare and public relations fields are now embracing similar modifications to support patients (and consumers!) as they safely begin to resume daily activities. The pandemic has pushed many organizations to become stronger and more strategic. And oftentimes when pushed, the outcome is an improvement. So, let’s check out the trends:

Going Virtual: By late March 2020, we saw a 154% increase in telehealth visits compared to the previous year and that momentum continued. Even as we turn the corner, many medical offices are still offering telehealth, when appropriate, while others are building their businesses around it. While the topic of telehealth does involve other critical facets, including the amount health insurance will pay, the fact is that many Americans have grown to enjoy telehealth – it limits potential exposure to additional germs and still provides the “face time” with doctors that we all appreciate.

What does this mean for the PR industry? It would be hard to find a PR team that hasn’t had to shift some aspect of their work to virtual – whether it was a virtual trade show or media tour. While “virtual events” may have felt different initially, the overall transition has been successful. Be on the lookout for many programs to be hybrid in the short term – allowing for both in-person and virtual participation.

Limiting COVID Risk:
As elective and outpatient surgeries are scheduled expect to see a boom in ambulatory procedures. And it makes sense: in an ambulatory setting, patients are discharged within 23 hours of care – so less risk of contracting an additional illness or infection – which was a major concern during the pandemic (and always!). And although some procedures will always require a hospital stay (that isn’t changing!), patients are now acutely aware of their options and are looking to reduce exposure to when it comes to surgery.

What does this mean for the PR industry? As my colleague Jenn shared in an earlier post, many of us are itching to get back to traveling for work and pleasure.  So, as we excitedly schedule in-person events and production days, we’ll need to keep consumer and media preference top of mind. Whether we limit the number of travel days, host more outdoor events or remain masked and socially distant when possible, making everyone feel comfortable and limiting infection spread will be paramount.

Mental Health Matters:
If you’re a silver lining type of person, this one is for you. The topic of mental health, and the sensitivities surrounding the mental health crisis our nation is facing, is front and center. FINALLY. Many of us have experienced feelings of depression or isolation, and the hope is, coming out of the pandemic, that the stigma surrounding mental health lessens and the conversation about support and treatment options available intensifies.

What does this mean for the PR industry? Organizations should remain nimble as they assess the mental toll the pandemic has taken on their businesses. Perhaps brick and mortar stores may still have to support curbside pick-up and restaurants may still experience a portion of business that remains “take-out.” It’s our job in PR to be inclusive – making sure everyone feels comfortable and heard. Beyond direct-to-consumer adaptations, don’t be surprised if you see an uptick in CSR programs and corporate giving focused on mental health, too.

Work Life Balance:
Whether you are a fan of Peloton, CrossFit or Beachbody, everyone had to adapt in early 2020. However, research finds that nine in 10 people will continue their workouts at home even when gyms reopen. You can expect the same for meditation and mindfulness programs … we are looking at you, Headspace and Calm. These apps experienced an incredible surge and are now a part of everyday life.

What does this mean for the PR industry? Overall wellness is sometimes hard to quantify. But, regardless of your business specialty, workplace wellness programs are on the rise with a heightened focus on mental health, stress management and meditation. So, the next time you’re tasked with an internal communication program, make sure wellness programs are top of mind.

No one can predict how we will adapt to this “new normal.” However, as the quote goes, “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” and I believe that applies to healthcare and public relations, too!  The swift and powerful way the pandemic overtook our lives is, undoubtedly, something (I’m sure we’d all agree) we’d like to put behind us, so watch out, better days …. we are coming for ya!