We asked the DHC Advisory Board and Partners to consider a question and inform the industry:

How can digital innovations help to reach the new “engaged patient”… How do we better get the right materials in front of the right people, at the right moment?

As with any bright and diverse group of respondents, some questioned the question, some challenged the premise, and all gave insightful comments that we are happy to distill for you here.

We start by agreeing on the language. If we accept that one goal of digital health marketing is to see improved patient engagement, then it’s perhaps an over-simplification to want to “get the right materials to the right people, at the right moment”. DHC Health Advisors are pushing to see the industry adopt the ideal, and perhaps extreme, view of engagement as “a continuous and open channel that connects patients with the right resources, information, tools and services” which will produce the right outcomes.  This definition, courtesy of David Davidovic, ensures that we frame the issue correctly.

Which means, it’s our job as digital health marketers to make sure patients know how to take action and even more importantly, as described by Elizabeth Apelles, “understand why it matters – helping them to feel capable and empowered to succeed.” This level of patient communication will better lead to sustained engagement. Our advisors and partners have some thoughts on how this can be achieved.

Wendy Blackburn starts us out, explaining that “digital innovations have afforded marketers wonderful new opportunities for reaching patients in more meaningful ways. But to do it right, we must begin by doing things differently.” First, ensure that you really know your patient (and caregiver. And healthcare provider.) Understanding the patient, their journey and the behavioral economics and psychology that drive their behavior will make a significant difference in achieving desired outcomes. We must focus on the science of marketing as much as (or more than) the art of advertising. Patient engagement is about leveraging the technology to deliver the “right message” at the “right time”, but first it’s about understanding the psychology to ensure the message resonates. Marc Porter expounds – “understanding and accepting that access, exposure, and consumption of content now are controlled by the patient will enable communication initiatives to better resonate with customers.  Evolving our efforts from promotion to support is the key.”  Knowing the individual is the obvious, yet sometimes overlooked, starting point.

Today, marketers have the tools to identify, customize and deploy patient communications in a very personalized way. There exists a mandate to deliver information at the micro-level. This means more than engaging patients with sensors, health dashboards, coaching and incentives – we need to truly put them in control.  Additionally, we must address the significant asymmetry between the tools and information patients can access and those that their healthcare professionals can access — for example, a patient can’t easily perform a blood test to see whether they have an infection.  Peter Flaschner points out that the landscape will change over the next year “as devices such as Scanadu (scanadu.com) and Cue (cue.me) become available to consumers, providing instant access to information that previously required specialized equipment or a lab test.” Check out how these tools could be game-changers – allowing patients instant access similar information to a healthcare professional and get instant expert guidance on possible action. As with wearables or any other technology with the potential to change the landscape, the opportunity for these elements to have a broad impact on patient health outcomes depends on wide-scale access and adoption of these tools. The potential for patient engagement, and empowerment, is exciting.

Finally, even with a leveled information playing field, it’s important to consider all involved stakeholders. Marketers who are serious about patient engagement should be considering the HCPs who are focused on outcomes and the payers who are focused on costs. Ryan Olohan reminds us that “patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals alike turn to digital to find information related to their health. Whether it is information about a patient’s symptoms, diagnosis or treatment, it is important the reliable sources can be found.”

The Digital Health Coalition echoes the challenge of our advisory board and partners – we are excited about the opportunities that new technology continues to provide – and want to encourage marketers to focus on the patient part of patient engagement first. Understand the patient and find the right tools to match their needs, as much as possible putting the patient in the driver’s seat. Consider how the patient’s caregiver and healthcare providers will impact the patient engagement and build communication with all the players into the plan from the start. As we mentioned last month, the new DHC research done with partner Klick Health demonstrates what we all believe, digital health communication has a positive impact on patient health outcomes – this affirmation inspires us to continue challenging the status quo and looking for ways we can all work to make an impact on patient health.