What is the coming year likely to hold for NHS and IT? And what will that mean for marketers, companies and trusts working with healthcare technology? Highland Marketing looks ahead.

Lyn Whitfield, strategy and content director, on NHS finance and policy in 2018

The NHS received a five-year financial settlement in 2015. The money was billed as “fully funding” the previous year’s Five Year Forward View reform plan. But it was ‘frontloaded’ so that after two years of (relative) ‘plenty’ the health service had to endure two ‘lean’ years before the final tranche arrived.

Next year will be a bit less ‘lean’ than it might have been, thanks to chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to find some extra cash in the autumn Budget. But rows about funding look set to dominate 2018, just as they dominated 2017.

What’s less clear is whether the health service can get into the Forward View’s agenda of redesigning services, moving away from the internal market, and implementing population-level payment models. Sustainability and transformation plans are now 15 months old, but have made relatively little impact on the ground.

The first accountable care systems are supposed to start in April; but Labour has called for a Parliamentary vote on the supposedly “secret” organisations that could bog them down in party-political in-fighting – just as the Brexit negotiations bite.

If that isn’t enough debate about the future of the NHS to be going on with, the NHS 70 celebrations in July will be marked by any number of think-tank reports offering competing visions. Still, things could be worse. The NHS (almost) looks well-funded and stable in comparison to social care. And it needs good, implementable IT solutions as much as ever.

Mark Venables, chief executive, on marketing trends in 2018

The biggest change that we saw in 2017 was clients coming to us and asking us to carry out research. This has been driven by a need for them to understand how the NHS is changing, so they can work out how best to invest in marketing their products and in getting them in front of potential clients and influencers.

It has also been driven by a need for suppliers to show potential customers that they understand the situation they are in and that they will be able to deliver a significant return on investment for any IT deployment they make.

We have been able to deliver some excellent projects; and we expect the trend to continue into 2018, for a couple of reasons. First, once companies start to work this way, they come to see it as good practice; as the way that things should be done.

And second, it’s hard to see the financial position of the NHS changing, so people working in it will still need to justify spending on technology to their boards, their staff, and patients.

There’s no denying that the NHS has been a tough market in 2017, and that’s unlikely to change next year. However, there will be opportunities as trusts get to the end of contracts, and look to replace or build on what they have got, and as new initiatives and organisations come in, and people look to do new things.

If a company has got a good product, service or idea, then there will be customers out there that will be receptive to it. What that company needs to do is get that product, service or idea in front of the market. Which is where we come in!

Matthew D’Arcy, senior communications consultant, on PR trends in 2018

Marketeers will need to think even more creatively in 2018 on how to get the most from their content, so it has the best chance of reaching the right audiences. That might mean embracing emerging digital opportunities, finding ways to self-publish, or looking for entirely new ways to share stories.

But that doesn’t mean traditional PR and communications are dead. In 2017, our most successful campaigns started with a compelling and well-written press release that went on to generate extensive coverage.

Our most successful releases in 2017 featured in multiple national newspapers in the space of a weekend, exposing clients to their millions of readers. Or they featured in every one of our target business publications over a period of weeks, exposing clients to key potential customers.

Key to success, whatever media you choose, is substance – make sure you know how to find the right story, with the right authority, then figure out the best way to tell it.

Becky Mellor, senior account manager, on communications trends in 2018

Technology and change management must go hand in hand, but in the past the digital element has taken most of the head space; and change management has been something of an afterthought. As the digitisation of the NHS continues, there is a new focus on how IT will impact on processes and people.

That is signalled by the arrival of new roles, such as chief transformation officer, and by a new understanding of the need to create communications programmes for digital and transformation projects. Here at Highland Marketing, we are increasingly being approached by NHS trusts to support change communications around big implementations.

The culture of the NHS is receiving more column inches these days, and we are seeing event programmes dedicated to the topic of leadership. It is all intrinsically linked, so I hope and anticipate that this focus will intensify over the coming year.

Suppliers will need to address their role in making sure that implementations are a success and in supporting change management. Perhaps the anticipated global digital exemplar ‘blueprints’ will offer some guidance here too?

After all, 2018 is the year in which the GDEs and their fast followers are supposed to start telling the NHS about the work they are doing, and how other trusts can follow suit; and that suggests that communications programmes will need to be at the heart of what they do.

Gregor MacKenzie, digital and creative lead, on design trends in 2018

Experts within the creative industry are predicting a number of flamboyant and ‘out there’ shifts in the tide of design for 2018, but some are already starting to gain momentum towards the end of 2017.

Rather than having one fixed company logo and perhaps a logo mark to go alongside, there seems to be a trend towards responsive logos, which would allow greater flexibility for designers and developers whilst still retaining the core brand values within fixed brand guidelines. With a responsive approach to design already second nature, it actually feels that flexible logos are a little late to the party!

A shift away from flat design towards what has been termed as ‘semi-flat’ sees a return of shadows a depth of field blurs, although hopefully we will take a detour past the skeuomorphic route – fingers crossed!

Duotones and bright, flamboyant colours are primed to make an impact over the coming twelve months, alongside a fashion of 80’s and 90’s colour palettes and patterns. Could this be the generation that grew up on cassette tapes, He-Man and Push Pops starting to bloom in their careers?

Whilst predictions for where the design industry will take us over the next twelve months is tantalising, only certain elements may fit with your brand style and values. We should not be sucked in completely by fashionable fads, making only thought out and logical changes to your design elements.

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