A year in review: my 2012 digital predictions (part 1)

Alex Butler

Healthcare Digital Marketing Expert

At the end of last year, Alex Butler wrote his six predictions for digital in healthcare in 2012. In this article he reviews those predictions and compares them with what 2012 actually saw in the digital healthcare space.

(Continued from ‘Six of the best: digital predictions for 2012’ – part 1 and part 2)

Last December I wrote two articles which outlined my digital predictions for healthcare in 2012. We thought it would be interesting to look back on the past year and see how accurate they were. Here are the first two predictions and what actually happened.

1. 2012 Prediction: Big data becomes the hot topic in digital health.

It was estimated in 2012 that there are 50 petabytes of data in the healthcare realm, which equates to the entire written works of mankind, from the beginning of recorded history, in all languages. So my first prediction looks a no brainer now in hindsight, however even though there was interest in the possibilities of health data on a large scale in 2011 the rate of development in this area in 2012 has been astonishing.

Throughout the year we saw ever more emerging applications for big data and analytics in healthcare, these ranged from genomics (analysing data to discover cures for diseases faster, easier and cheaper than ever before) through crowd sourced science, efficiency planning and hospital management, improving re-admission rates to hospital and using public social networks, such as twitter to track disease and even predict disease outbreak.

We learnt in 2012 that social data pulled from online health forums and the comments section of blogs is helping patients learn about side effects to prescribed drugs, which could ultimately help them figure out the medications that suit them best.

Perhaps the most exciting advancements in 2012 have come from IBM, specifically Watson, an artificial intelligence computer system described by IBM “an analytical computing system that specializes in natural human language and provides specific answers to complex questions at rapid speeds.”


“Throughout the year we saw ever more emerging applications for big data and analytics in healthcare…”


Its application in healthcare was reported as early as January 2012 when The Seton Group put IBM’s analytics tool to work on patients with congestive heart failure to see what it could do. Watson was used to look into millions of records and find things that would be predictive of future negative health outcomes. In fact there were numerous examples in 2012 of Watson’s power to analyse health data in an attempt to predict health outcomes. It is however the Artificial intelligence and reasoning aspects that signal some intriguing possibilities for the future of big data.

IBM has promised a Watson that will in microseconds trawl the world’s medical knowledge and advise doctors. Although at the moment keenly debated amongst medical practitioners, many believe that this will be revolutionary for patient care in retrieving the right information and supporting doctor’s decisions at the point of care. Watson wasn’t programmed with the information it needed, but given the cognitive tools necessary to acquire the knowledge itself and one of Watson’s great virtues could be in providing unbiased second opinions in the management of patients.

2. 2012 Prediction: Mobile becomes fundamental

Predicting that mobile would become an essential central component for pharma digital strategy in 2012 should in some ways be obvious, however in 2011 figures suggested that only 5% of pharma digital assets were optimised for mobile. Have advances in mobile usage and application in 2012 meant that this is not feasible for pharma in 2013?

Google first started talking about being a ‘mobile first’ company nearly three years ago in early 2010. Since then mobile web traffic has grown over 160% with at least 10% of all web traffic being accessed through a mobile device. Those statistics themselves go nowhere to demonstrating how fundamental mobile has become in healthcare in 2012.

Data published in March suggested that 80% of doctors use smartphones and medical apps and are 250% more likely to own a smartphone or tablet than other consumers. Add to this the 62% of doctors who are using a tablet device, with over half of these at the point of care, the 71% of nurses who are using a smartphone at work.


“…many believe that this will be revolutionary for patient care in retrieving the right information and supporting doctor’s decisions at the point of care.”


What about patients and the public? Well 40,000 healthcare related apps are available for tablets and smartphones and 247 million people have downloaded one to their device. What was more interesting is what people’s perceptions were regarding future use of mobile health applications with 48% of people saying it will change the way they manage chronic conditions, 59% say that it will change the way they seek information on health issues, 48% believe it will change the way they communicate with their doctor and finally 48% believe it will change their medication. That’s a lot of stats, but the implications as we approach 2013 are pretty obvious.

Some of the advances over the past year in demonstrating meaningful health outcomes have been truly impressive. We have seen applications that connect people together in a way that can support them in abusive situations. The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) have utilised the mobile to Provide new and expectant mothers in need with free health information. Numerous applications have demonstrated efficacy in monitoring moods, managing and, in some cases, relieving people of depression, motivating people to change lifestyle behaviours, improving nutrition and fitness and even cutting response time from months to weeks in malaria.

As with Big Data, IBM’s Watson stole the mobile health limelight towards the end of the year with reports that IBM is working on an upgraded “Watson 2.0? that will be more energy efficient for tablets and smartphones. The addition of “senses” would also make Watson more aware of its contextual environment, which would be an important part of bringing the service to mobile.


“…there was a growing appreciation through 2012 that soon, your phone will know more about your health history and fitness goals than your doctor does.”


IBM is testing a program that would allow patients to detail symptoms to Watson, and the A.I. would then offer up potential diagnoses. The company says Watson will eventually be well versed enough in oncology to help with diagnosis and prescriptions. For the moment this work is focussed on supporting doctors but how long will it be before patients gets their hands on Watson’s power?

In conclusion, there was a growing appreciation through 2012 that soon, your phone will know more about your health history and fitness goals than your doctor does. And according to RunKeeper founder Jason Jacobs, when this plays out at scale, it will change the dynamic between you, your doctor and the traditional healthcare system forever. When you add in the changing nature of customer and consumer behaviour and the ubiquity of mobile technology, it is essential for pharma in 2013 that they give the highest priority to, and play a key role in, mobile health.

Part two of this article will look at the predictions that games and gamification would join the mainstream and that Social media would begin to separate the winners from the losers. We will also have a brief look at the search landscape in 2012 and the predicted privacy concerns that were a hot topic at the end of 2011.

The next part of this article can be viewed here.


About the author:

Cited as the thought leader for digital marketing and digital strategy for pharmaceuticals and healthcare Alex has overseen dozens of award winning projects including innovate digital sales solutions and pioneering social media projects always rooted in high quality strategic design with models developed by himself for both business focus and digital readiness.

Alex worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over a decade with six years at Janssen (Johnson &amp, Johnson) in numerous roles including Market Access, Corporate and Brand Communications, Marketing, Digital Strategy &amp, Social Media and finally as a senior lead in Janssen EMEA Strategic Marketing team with responsibility for Marketing Communications. He has most recently built the successful digital marketing agency The Social Moon as co-owner and Managing Director and now works as an independent digital marketing consultant focussed on the pharmaceutical industry.

Alex is also keenly interested on the impact new media has had on advertising and is an invited member of the prestigious Wharton University ‘Future Of advertising’ Global Advisory Team. He also works on academic projects with other academic institutions such as UCL looking at the impact digital media has had on society. He just about finds time to be a third of the world’s most popular healthcare marketing podcast ‘Digitally Sick’.

Alex’s twitter account


What were your digital predictions for 2012 and did they come true?