2013’s Big Moments in Health PR

By Liz Rea and April Sciacchitano

2013 is coming to a close, and it’s been quite a year for health news and communication. A lot of great (and not so great) things happened in health this year, and we made it through the year despite the government breaking, er… shutting down.  In case you missed it, here are our picks for the need-to-know moments of 2013.

16-year-old Jack Andraka opens news doors for cancer detection. With the help of Google and Wikipedia, Jack Andraka unveiled a simple test for detecting pancreatic cancer in 2012 that is 168 times faster, 400 times more sensitive and 26,000 times more economical than traditional tests. In 2013, the news spread about the test, which uses mesothelin as a marker to detect cancer, and talk of its vast potential began, with some hoping it can be modified to detect a multitude of cancers.

Boston hospitals responded swiftly to the marathon bombings, thanks to emergency preparedness.

In the wake of 9/11 and numerous natural disasters, Boston hospitals come together for an annual training to better prepare themselves for the unthinkable. When just that happened at the Boston Marathon this year, the hospitals were prepared, helping physicians and nurses save countless number of patients who needed immediate medical care. These drills have become standard in most cities, helping hospitals to work together, should disaster strike.

The Angelina Jolie Effect boosted genetic testing. In May, Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed, “My Medical Choice,” in the New York Times discussing her preventative double mastectomy she chose to have done after she learned she carried the BRCA1 gene. This gene increased her chances of developing breast cancer to 87 percent and ovarian cancer to 50 percent. After her announcement, which urged women to get take control of their health, physicians have seen an increase in women who want to be genetically tested to better understand their risks of developing cancer.

Coca-Cola repositions on a health and wellness platform. Diet Coke sales dipped in 2013, prompting the soda giant to test a new campaign, defending aspartame as a safe substance that will help fight obesity. The campaign’s launch came with quite a bit of resistance and didn’t quite make the splash Coke had hoped.

Healthcare.gov crashes is still not up and running.  Although there were quite a few developments related to healthcare reform this year, our PR pick is the launch of Healthcare.gov.  We still can’t decide whether or not it’s working, but you can bet PR teams everywhere are adding “website crash” to their crisis training manuals in 2014.  A website has never stole the headlines in quite this way. Meanwhile, there’s a poor showing of interest in the new healthcare game plan – only 29,000 Americans have signed up for insurance via the website.

And, a preview of what to look out for in 2014:
What do Elmo and Michelle Obama have in common?
A love for teaching kids the importance of eating their fruits and veggies! Over the next two years, the Sesame Street Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in conjunction with Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative will work with  the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to help children (and parents) make better, healthier choices when it comes to food.

Unless you’ve been under a rock this year, you know these six picks are only the tip of the iceberg.  What’s your pick for memorable PR moments of 2013?



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