Jonathan Evans is Communications and External Affairs Manager at Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN). He leads PHIN’s communication with external audiences, including regulators, public bodies, media, as well as managing PHIN’s website marketing. The Private Healthcare Information Network is the independent, Government-mandated source of information about private healthcare in the UK. Their appointment follows an investigation by the UK’s Competition and Market Authority (CMA) investigation into Private Healthcare (further details found on the CMA’s website). They have a legal mandate to gather and publish performance information regarding all hospitals and consultants providing private treatment. And act as an online source of independent and trustworthy information, ensuring patients using private healthcare can compare and choose between both hospitals and consultants. This expert in public and para-public communication - supported by a large communication started with communication and public affairs at the Home Office before moving to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and eventually moving to the health sector with the NHS Confederation and the international HIV charity NAM AIDS map.
Could you explain to us the role and mission of the PHIN in the UK?
The main provision of health care in the UK, around 90%, is done by the NHS – the public sector. While there is a lot of information available about NHS care, for the 10% of care delivered in the private sector there hasn’t traditionally been good information around things like safety, quality, or even price So it is hard for people considering private health care to try to figure out the best providers.
PHIN is a new type of organization whose main mission is that there is more information available for people considering private health care. We do this by providing information that is consistent with NHS standards.
If our main purpose is to support patients to make better-informed choices for their care providers, we also work closely with hospitals, consultants, and public bodies. As the national authority for private healthcare in the UK, have access to unique data and information, and that data – particularly when taken at a macro level, is really valuable for better understanding and improving the quality of care at a regional and local level. A big part of our role is to also work with the private sector and the NHS to make this data available, and to help improve how data and information is collected across the health service.
What do COVID-time communications look like for you?
Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on healthcare. According to the data that we published earlier this year private healthcare numbers dropped to 86% in April. Of course, this was during the first wave of the pandemic when the UK was in lockdown. During this time the majority of private hospitals were commissioned to support the NHS and the public sector. As an organization focused on privately funded healthcare, this pushed us somewhat into the background. During this time we’ve played an important role in building relationships between the NHS and private sector and supporting the flow of timely data. However, without people accessing private healthcare services, there is fewer data to collect, and fewer people researching their care options.
On the one hand, our audiences dropped and both media and public debate in healthcare-focused almost exclusively on Covid-19. On the other, this gave us space and time to reassess our priorities and how we communicate and market ourselves.
Where we’ve previously focused on ‘getting the work done’, this year has given us the space to think about ‘how’ we do things and putting consumers and patients at the heart of our design. We’ve done a lot of consumer testing and focus groups on improving our website UX and how we can better position our brand as a service for people considering private services.
How did you adapt your communication strategy, your tools, and your content?
2020 has changed a lot of things. Personally, I have seen the biggest changes in my behavior in how I act as a consumer. Working from home for almost 10 months, with large parts of that in various lockdowns, the way I interact with the world has definitely changed.
However, for PHIN as a website-based company, I’m not sure that Covid has necessitated a change in our communications strategy and tools. We are a relatively small yet secure company, so in many ways, we’ve been protected from the worst of the economic impact of the pandemic. And as far as our primary audiences are concerned, we have always been a digital company.
However, this year has given us the space to reflect on our approach. Our focus shifted from getting the data to how to process it and make it available for patients. We are looking much more at UX design, our SEO and content strategy, and how to contextualize the fairly technical information we deal with for people wanting simple answers. Weirdly, social distancing and remote working have been beneficial for me. It deepened my technical skills and gave me a more analytical approach to thinking about what should be done by PHIN. I think we are all much more aware of how we interact in the digital world as consumers or just people wanting clear, independent information. That insight has been incredibly valuable as we plan for the relaunch of our website in 2021.
Have you noticed an increase in your audiences? If yes, what type of content and information does it concern?
To be honest we have seen a drop in website traffic this year. During the height of the pandemic, the only healthcare services available tended to be for the most critical patients – be those Covid patients or people receiving cancer care, so it makes complete sense that people weren’t looking for services they can’t actually access. Even between lockdowns a lot of people seem to be wary of hospitals and getting treatment. If people can wait, many seem to be doing just that.
However, we’ve also seen our brand awareness rise this year. Throughout the year we have continued to publish information about safety and quality in private healthcare, as well as reports and graphics related to Covid-19. If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that people love a graph – we’ve seen so many charts and graphs this year that everyone, including me, is now an expert at reading them! As one of the organizations at the center of producing healthcare data, we’ve taken this as an opportunity and had a lot of success. For an organization with a fair niche role, we’ve achieved impressive national coverage by adding our unique view on the pandemic from a private healthcare perspective.
What lessons do you draw from the COVID crisis in terms of communication for your organization?
The lockdown has given us precious time to take stock, organize, and reflect. We focus on areas like SEO and working remotely. We try to engage more digitally and be concise. It taught us how to work differently and effectively.
How do you see 2021, the year of vaccines?
2021 is going to be an interesting year. With waiting times likely to rise in the NHS, it will become more important that there is an independent and authoritative source of information about private health care in the UK, which is exactly our role.
I think the keyword for us would be reassurance. More people will arguably more open to using private healthcare than before. By on large I think the previous perception of competition between the NHS and private sector, has dissipated. The UK public has shown enormous trust and thankfulness for our health service, both NHS and private. As the roll-out of the vaccine and we start to get back to normal life, and people increasingly access non-urgent health services, we will be there to provide reassurance for those considering private care.
The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) is the independent, government-mandated source of information about private healthcare, working to empower patients to make better-informed choices of care providers. PHIN is a not-for-profit organization that exists to make more robust information about private healthcare available than ever before and to improve data quality and transparency. PHIN’s vision is that all patients considering private healthcare will have access to trustworthy, comprehensive information on both quality and price to help them make their decisions. Over the next five years, PHIN will become the first service that patients and doctors turn to when they want to understand and choose private healthcare. it will help to raise standards and expectations for the availability, transparency, and usability of health information, and act as a model for information governance. Through analysis and publication of information, it will develop professional and public understanding of private healthcare, and drive improvement in the quality of services delivered and the outcomes of care and treatment delivered.