Digital health: statistics vs. reality

The-Bottom-LineLast week I published a link to 51 digital health metrics in 2013.  The post had a lot of great stats but statistics without insights mean very little.  Over the past 3 years I have reviewed a lot of data and sat in a lot of market research to better understand how people are using the Internet for health.  It’s essential to understand the drivers of digital health so, as marketers, we can better provide patient/consumers with the information they need to make better health choices.  Here is a list of what I learned…

(1) There is a huge difference between “online health”, including apps, and “online health information”.

Oline health could be anything from sites/apps to help you lose weight to sites/apps that track your daily exercise.  The difference is that people use online health proactively to help them reach goals or track their personal health and wellness goals.  Online health information, in contrast, is information that is available 24/7/365 when patients and consumers want and need it.  The search for online health information is usually driven by specific triggers like symptoms, a visit to the doctor or a diagnosis, although there are some health conditions, such as diabetes, that require patients and caregivers to be proactive.


(2) Consumers will spend time researching health conditions, including treatment options, based on how important the health issue is relevant to their quality of life.

Why are patients forgoing some Rx products even though they may have good efficacy ? Because they don’t want to deal with the horrid side effects listed in fair balance.  In one research session we gave consumers a list of medications, both OTC and Rx, to stop smoking and many more people chose the OTC products because the potential side effects scared them away.  Even now with new MS drugs entering the market Twitter is abuzz with patients talking about some very bad side effects.

(3) Don’t buy into the “hype” of mobile health, instead ensure your site is optimized for all mobile devices.

Developing a mobile app can cost as much as $200,000 but unless you have clear insights that your audience will actually use the apps and have tested them to ensure a good usability experience it’s a waste of money.  People like to use mobile devices to stay on top of social media and eMail while surfing the web.  The idea that they are going to a site about AFIB to kill time is a pure canard.  Think triggers that cause people to go online and search and where (in doctors office ?, in pharmacy?).  Make no mistake mobile is the future but right now it’s a very fragmented landscape.

Finally a lot of people in research said they did not want to be reminded that they have health problems via mobile apps but at the same time some said, Type 1 diabetes for example, that a mobile app to help them better manage their health would be welcomed if it was updated on a regular basis.

(4) Most seniors want to manage their own healthcare digitally.

Most, 57%,  of tech-savvy senior citizens are seeking digital options for managing their health services remotely but only a third of healthcare providers offer such capabilities.  Internet use is increasing among senior citizens, as well. The Pew Internet & American Life Project revealed internet use between 2000 to 2012 tripled for those age 65 and older, and doubled among those age 50-64.

Since this demographic is more likely to be high users of Rx drugs you shouldn’t ignore them and make content and online marketing relevant to THEM.


(5) Health care spending growth is the lowest on record.

According to the most recent projections, real per capita health care spending has grown at an estimated average annual rate of just 1.3 percent over the three years since 2010. This is the lowest rate on record for any three-year period and less than one-third the long-term historical average stretching back to 1965.

The slowdown in health care cost growth is more than just an artifact of the 2007- 2009 recession: something has changed. The fact that the health cost slowdown has persisted so long even as the economy is recovering, the fact that it is reflected in health care prices – not just utilization or coverage, and the fact that it has also shown up in Medicare – which is more insulated from economic trends, all imply that the current slowdown is the result of more than just the recession and its aftermath.


(6) The most important channel for conversion to an Rx is the Web.

TV is dying. It can help generate awareness but if you think a consumer is going to see a DTC commercial and then run to their doctor to request an Rx there is a bridge I would like to sell you.

CPG marketers have learned to divide their campaigns into three categories— traditional, digital, and social. Traditional marketing has begun to lose much of its relevance and reach with the advent of the Internet and digital media options pulling the audience away from television commercials and print. DTC marketers need to move away from their love affair with TV.

(7) You can’t just repurpose old material created for one platform, throw it up on another one, and then be surprised when everyone goes to competitors’ sites and does more research on your product.

No one would ever think it was a good idea to use a print ad for a television commercial, or confuse a banner ad for a radio spot. Like their traditional media platform cousins, every social media platform has its own language. Yet most of you haven’t bothered to learn it and still won’t spend the money to develop really good compelling content.

Finally social media is invaluable in providing you with real-time insights into disease states and Rx products but you need to understand how to listen and integrate concerns/questions into your website content.  At Medtronic I met with customer service people regularly so I could better understand what questions they were getting from patients and develop content around these questions.  Listen and respond





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