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New year, new attitudes in digital

The real digital innovations in 2014 need to come in our attitudes, not our technologies
Digital Futures

A new year and an opportunity to ponder what's to come is upon us. In keeping with the trends of recent years, I was pleased to see digital innovation driving 2013's big advances in healthcare and this is something we can only expect to see more of in 2014.  However, while compliance regulations are much more in tune with digital trends than they were a few years ago, they continue to be something of a sticky issue for some and a potential obstacle to progress. They are often seen as the boundary, when I advocate for them to be the foundation.

Of course, I completely support the need for regulation within our industry, but I become deeply concerned when well-intentioned projects become derailed by a blinkered pre-occupation with abiding by rules and codes. Even when regulations themselves do not obstruct, a general nervousness and over-caution can pervade among stakeholders worried about incurring the wrath of 'The Law'.

It's something that troubles me, not least because in most instances it harms the very people we are trying to help, indeed the very people that medical ethics codes protect: patients. Digital and social technologies have been around for a while now and I would like to think that the fantastic opportunity they provide to engage and unite patients is widely appreciated. However, it needs to be better understood that simply because your services and products are compliant, it doesn't mean that they are useful. We have a wealth of incredibly well-designed digital apparatus at our fingertips  and consequently, patients and professionals alike expect a fantastic user experience from the digital products we provide. In my view, there is no excuse for not meeting this expectation – there is no 'law' against it.

Interested in providing an outlet for social interaction to connect and activate patients? Great. For patients with isolating long-term conditions social media can be an incredible lifeline, providing support and information. But only if you do it properly. Moderation is a tricky area but you have to commit to getting it right. Patients who can interact easily and immediately with their counterparts on consumer brand Facebook pages aren't going to stick around if it takes an age for their comments to clear moderation on your page, or worse, if they can't post at all. They won't care whether it's do with regulations or not; they want honest, open discourse.

For our clients we will only endorse post-moderated social campaigns. Patients must be free to post comments with all their posts appearing on the page immediately. Any comments that pose issues would then be removed by a moderator. This is not comfortable for the healthcare industry and a brave approach is necessary to take such bold steps in the interest of its patients. The result can be a thriving and active community, in which patients actively support, and engage with, each other, as we are increasingly starting to see.

It's the sort of bravery we need to encourage more of. By all means we must take measures to calculate and mitigate risks to the patients in our care as much as possible, but, where the risks are small and the opportunities for benefiting patients are great, we need to be prepared to leap into the unknown. Concerns about the risk of patients posting controversial comments about branded treatments or making remarks about adverse events (that would then need following up) via social media are both serious and valid. However, we can't hide from comments concerning AEs, we should be actively pursuing them. Equally, they should not be over-exaggerated. In our work to date we have found the risk to be relatively low, and have been able to put in place systems to neutralise any potential problems. By clearly explaining the rules to patients and providing reasons for any comment removals, we found that we have found that social media channels can survive without excessive interference. 

Compliance can no longer be seen as a barometer of success. Neither can it be a shield behind which to hide when faced with difficult decisions. We need to approach the opportunities and challenges of digital with an open mind and a focus on providing patients and professionals with the positive experiences they desire. For me, the real innovations in 2014 need to come in our attitudes not our technologies. 'The laws' need to be our foundation and not our limit.

This article was originally published in the PME supplement Digital Futures

Article by
David Hunt

CEO of HAVAS LYNX EU. Contact him on tel: +44 (0)161 228 7756, Email,  or Twitter

20th January 2014

From: Marketing, Regulatory

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