Sharing Key Information with Consumers through Health Care and Medical Public Relations (PR)

    sharing-key-information-with-consumers-through-health-care-and-medical-public-relationsHealth care or medical public relations (PR) is a growing niche for medical communicators that involves translating and sharing complex medical information with a general audience of patients and consumers. 

    Public relations professionals—both freelance and those employed by companies—play important roles by sharing news of medical discoveries, promoting products, and educating consumers.

    What good is a new treatment if no one knows about it? Successful medical PR professionals understand how to disseminate accurate information via various media channels and create clear, concise materials such as press releases. Excellent PR can also help companies manage crises and build trust in the medical community. 

    Expanding Your Reach

    At a 2022 session of the AMWA Southeast Regional Conference, Katrina R. Burton, then Public Relations Program Director at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, led a session titled “Public Relations in Medical Communication.” 

    “PR plays a critical role in health care because it allows institutions and organizations to raise awareness about health, share groundbreaking research, and help people take control of their own health,” writes Lisa Kuhns, PhD, reporting on the session in the AMWA Journal

    Medical PR also has the capacity to spread important health care information to underserved populations and to highlight the work of community-based stakeholders. 

    Medical PR harnesses the power of storytelling, serving as a bridge between medical and scientific professionals and patients and consumers.

    Developing a Public Relations Plan

    Burton’s advice for creating a successful PR plan begins with determining what is being promoted. It could be a clinical or patient program, a recognition or award, the results of a clinical study, a milestone, or a new development such as a clinic or facility. 

    The PR plan should address the following elements:

    • Costs and budget for the campaign
    • Stakeholders and collaborators involved
    • Funding sources such as grants and donors
    • Target audience
    • Key messages
    • Timeline and deliverables
    • Communication channels 

    Successful PR often emerges from healthy collaboration among experts in PR, social media, websites, video, photography, and design. 

    Relationships with subject matter experts (SMEs) are vital. The best PR teams are in the loop and are the first to tell the story when SMEs publish or accomplish something that is worth celebrating. 

    In addition to building connections with the media and influencers, relationships within the company team are important for creating a shared vision and plan. When everyone involved agrees on a public relations plan, PR teams can share a unified message to enhance and expand upon a company’s brand while educating consumers about products and services that can improve their health and their lives.

    The Foundation of PR: The Press Release

    A press (or news) release is a brief summary of a story that is used to engage journalists so that they may contacting an organization or individual source for follow-up. Sometimes, busy news room personnel will use news releases to craft stories, using quotes and facts included in the release.

    A well-written, professional press release goes a long way. Press releases often follow a specific format, and journalists receive thousands of them; to stand out, a press release needs to be top quality and include accurate and engaging content. 

    In this blog post on the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) website, author Haley Smalley provides tips for formatting and writing press releases.

    For example, the top of the press release needs to have a company or organizational logo, full contact information, and an engaging headline. That information is followed by a dateline formatted in Associated Press (AP) style; medical communicators working in the PR space should have a digital or print copy of the AP Stylebook handy to master the particulars of datelines and AP conventions. 

    Some examples of datelines include

    • LOS ANGELES (Sept. 1, 2024, 7 a.m. PT)
    • MILWAUKEE (May 14, 2024, 6 p.m. CST)
    • KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Aug. 15, 2025)

    Press releases are commonly structured as follows.

    Paragraph 1: dateline + “Nut graph”: Who? What? When? Where? (3-4 sentences)

    Paragraph 2: Additional information that helps the reader understand why the story is important (3-4 sentences)

    Paragraph 3: Quotes from key sources showing the significance of the event, announcement, or topic

    Writing excellent press releases is an important skill to master. Understanding the structure is the first step toward engaging the reader to take a desired action, such as following up for more details or an interview. Once the structure is established, the goal is to engage the reader to share information—or to follow up for more detail, quotes, or an interview. 

    Effective communication with these lay audiences requires using plain, simple language that is understandable to non-medical experts. Avoid jargon and strive for transparency at all times.

    Use the Tools at Your Disposal

    Like all medical writing, press releases need to adhere to ethical standards. Consult the AMWA Code of Ethics for guidance on representing the profession and the organizations we serve.

    For help along the way, AMWA resources such as Essential Skills courses, AMWA’s Online Learning, and the Medical Editing Checklist can assist in creating sparkling, compelling stories to advance the public’s understanding of science and medicine. 

    Medical and health care public relations, at its best, shares important information with a wide variety of audiences to help them navigate the health care system, improve their personal health, and promote a healthier society.

    AMWA acknowledges the contributions of Abbie Miller, MWC for peer review in the development of this AMWA resource.


    June 10, 2024 at 9:00 AM

    American Medical Writers Association

    AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.