7 reasons to be wary of digital health hype


Richard Meyer on the huge hype around digital health – and how biopharma should navigate around it.

I have just spent some time leading research with both healthcare professionals and consumers to talk about digital health.

My client wanted to better understand the opportunities, but also wanted to hear, first hand, how people were using digital health. What we heard confirmed my suspicions that the hype around digital health is in high gear and that there is a huge digital health bubble.

The focus groups, covering two days, consisted of people who said they were using digital health tools and primary care physicians. The aim was to discover their perceptions around digital health.

While I attended the research in the Midwest, the moderator attended research in three other areas of the US. Here are the key findings:

(1) There is a huge difference between digital health and digital fitness/wellness. Many people who use wearable devices, for example, use them to measure things like the number of steps they take (to reach a goal) or how they sleep.

(2) Physicians, for the most part, disregard any digital health data (apps/wearable devices) that have not been fully tested in a clinical setting. They are more likely to recommend that patients get medical tests if someone is alerted to a potential problem as a result of digital health data. Not one physician in any group (n=39) said they would be willing to prescribe a medication based on any digital health data that was not fully tested in a clinical setting.

(3) While Millennials are early adopters of digital health, Baby Boomers are very interested in the promise they offer. Boomers are more likely to seek professional input based on data, while Millennials are more likely to research online without seeing a doctor. This is a major concern for physicians.

(4) All demographic groups want better digital communications with their doctors (email) but doctors say they don't have the time to review all communications from patients. In addition, physicians are worried about the liability of prescribing to online patients based on information patients communicate (i.e. what they might not be saying).

(5) Patients want to use digital health most for getting prescription renewals or for requesting medications for non-chronic health problems such as the 'flu or allergies.

(6) There is very low interest in consulting with a physician online if the patients don't know the physician beforehand.

(7) Patients who are prescribed a new medication often go to the medication website first, but they will also use search to read what others have said about the medication before getting a prescription.

While there were other insights, these were the key findings, and I believe they represent opportunities for biopharma marketers.

First, biopharma has to convince physicians that any digital health initiatives are founded on good science and provide meaningful diagnostic criteria.

Second, while research has indicated 'low trust' in pharma, digital health users still use pharma websites as a resource. However, although pharma website content is often trusted, users like to verify the content with other patients and on other websites. They also want to better understand treatment options, but their doctors rule when it comes to recommending the best treatment.



"Biopharma should be working with high quality health content providers to deliver content to patients at key decision points"


Finally, biopharma should be working with high quality health content providers to deliver content to patients at key decision points. If, for example, a doctor could email a patient with key information about a new Rx, patients would be more likely to read it, find it credible and fill a new prescription. Biopharma should find a way to produce better content and, more importantly, distribute it in every digital channel.

Right now, anyone who raises their hand and says 'I have a digital health product' is getting funded – nobody wants to be left behind in the move to digital health. But patients and doctors seem to be saying: 'First, give us better health – before digital makes us feel less human and more like just another customer.'

About the author:

Richard Meyer has over 20 years of marketing experience in consumer packaged goods and healthcare. He has worked for companies like Eli Lilly and Medtronic, and recently sold his digital healthcare consulting business to take a position as chief strategy officer.

Among his many accomplishments, he was on the Global Cialis launch team, where he developed an award-winning interactive strategy, receiving the highest marketing award at Lilly. He redesigned the Medtronic Diabetes site, increasing key metrics, and is recognised as a digital thought leader.

Rich currently works with healthcare clients to develop DTC and HCP marketing initiatives. He leads research for clients and identifies actionable strategies to improve marketing. He has an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology and lives with his wife in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Visit Richard's blog here.

Read more from Richard Meyer:

The end of DTC marketing and the dawn of DWP marketing

Linda Banks

10 July, 2015