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Three steps forward, four steps back

How to ensure digital content achieves the right dialogue

Jess Baldock

By Jess Baldock, writer, Page & Page

Right now, digitally speaking, it seems that we’ve taken three steps forward and four back.

Selling the idea for a new app isn’t hard. The healthcare industry has started relying on digital disruption in the hope that it will transform the patient experience. However, a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund affirmed that only 43% (Apple iTunes store) and 27% (Google Play store) of healthcare apps energised patient engagement.

Research by IQVIA in 2017 revealed that there were 318,500 mobile apps in the health category: 85% of these had fewer than 5,000 downloads, and only 41 of these apps had more than ten million downloads, the latter being concentrated in areas like diabetes and behavioural health.

We seem to be expecting app-based communication to become a substitute for human interaction; it works in banking, so why not healthcare?

Apps work because they’re convenient, which is why they’re successful in finance. When we use these apps, we already know what we want from them and how to achieve it. Convenience is also an essential ingredient in a healthcare app – as long as patients know what they need. A better outcome can only result from a change in patient behaviour, ie adherence to a therapeutic pathway.

Let’s take asthma for example. It has, in theory, one of the most individualised therapeutic pathways, lending itself to data, connectivity and app-based communications. In the UK, asthma hospitalises someone every seven minutes and every ten seconds someone has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. So, when it comes to asthma, necessity has driven a more considered use of apps, data and connectivity, which leverage human nature to the best effect. Examples include digital inhalers, attack risk checkers and suites of mobile apps designed to better support patient-physician dialogue.


The challenge lies in the yearly review with a GP or asthma specialist: recalling all the details surrounding episodes over the past 12 months can be tricky. This is where connectivity, data sets and technology can help.

Smart inhalers transmitting real-time data, wearables which monitor motion, heart rate and oxygen in the blood, and mobile apps providing asthma reduction tips, symptom logs and alternative behaviours are pivotal to improving these reviews.

This technology not only helps people with asthma take more control over their care, it also keeps healthcare professionals (HCPs)in touch with their patients in- between appointments. And, assuming that the HCPs can act on the data and proactively work with the patients, their symptoms can potentially be improved by working together.

This takes us back to our opening question: have we taken three steps forward and four back? Is this new world of connectivity stripping us of our ability to communicate with one another? With the introduction of everyday technology, have we become fearful of interactions other than those originating from a keyboard?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are generating new insights, but without the addition of human intervention and insight to interpret the data, we struggle to build robust platforms that new treatments can use as foundations. Most electronic communication within healthcare has not been designed with human dialogue in mind. We’re all for real- time data collection, mobile communications and connectivity. It can make a huge difference as long as it also promotes dialogue.

Within both the dental and nutritional arenas, we’re developing apps to promote more meaningful dialogues with measurable results, namely adherence and behaviour change. While the route is not always direct, the goal is always the same – ensuring important data reaches the hospital, healthcare professional or our client, facilitating proactive, positive change.

Ensuring digital content achieves the right dialogue means ruthlessly asking ourselves: what type of content and digital platform will this target audience best respond to? In answering this question, we can make sure that the apps, microsites and even games resonate with their target audience and have a positive impact on the management of their condition. When data is used, it’s critical that the audience values the sharing of that data. After all, when a patient doesn’t trust or understand the process and benefits of a product, compliance can become an issue.

In the end, however, the best outcomes arise when the data is interpreted by people – nurses, consultants, carers and the patients themselves. Data and digital communications can facilitate those actions but until artificial intelligence becomes more commonplace and people become more comfortable with it, there is no substitute for human dialogue if we want to avoid taking backward steps.

In association with

Page & Page

15th November 2018

From: Marketing



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