Technology & content design that improves health outcomes

Tyler Durbin discusses the most critical challenge faced by the health system today – low levels of health literacy – and how technology can help to address this challenge.

A patient is instructed to drink a glass of water when taking a pill but doesn’t because he is “not thirsty,” not understanding the instructions are to protect their kidneys. A woman diligently practices injecting her new insulin medication into an orange while in the hospital only to be readmitted with dangerously high blood sugar readings after eating the oranges she practices her injections with.

We hear these stories from doctors, patient advocates, and marketers, and it illustrates one of the most critical challenges the healthcare system faces today: dangerously low levels of health literacy begetting readmissions and poor patient outcomes.

Communicating complex health information across channels, across demographics, and psychographics is as challenging as ever. And as collaboration and coordination become part of the new health marketplace, pharmaceutical brands must clearly and credibly demonstrate how they are partners in care.

“Communicating complex health information across channels, across demographics, and psychographics is as challenging as ever.”

While each brand and marketing team will need to evaluate the specific challenges facing their stakeholders, the focus on clinical outcomes is amplifying the need to increase our attention on patient education and improving health literacy.

In the modern healthcare system, education and literacy will live at the intersection of rich media content, design, and technology.


The answer isn’t more information. Patients are already bombarded with packets of discharge paperwork, lists of medications, and a stack of new prescriptions after a diagnosis or treatment. The reliance on text and numbers is often at the heart of health illiteracy, and providing information in writing may not always be the best answer.

People 65 and older make nearly twice as many physician visits per year than any other demographic, but two-thirds are unable to understand the information given to them by their doctor. In fact, 71% have difficulty using printed materials, 80% have difficulty understanding charts, and 68% have difficulty interpreting numbers and performing calculations.

A young child who needs to learn how to use an asthma inhaler might find it easier watching a video on how to use it rather than reading written instructions.

Strategy: In conjunction with rich media content, personalizing patient education content also means providing just enough information formatted for specific touchpoints in a patient’s health journey. The goal is to empower patients to take action instead of being paralyzed by information overload. Personalizing patient education is an opportunity to build trust in the brand, but it’s also a strategic opportunity to improve adherence, increase the number of prescriptions, and achieve positive outcomes.


Technology in a healthcare setting has many advantages:

• Conveying patient information and promoting behavior change

• Identifying patient concerns and issues for screening

• Chronic disease management

• Tracking patient progress and outcomes

• Promoting related health information and behavior


Through the use of healthcare technology, brands can partner with healthcare professionals to expand the patient and audience base, deliver information in a timelier manner, standardize messaging, and layer content for patients who want to dig deeper using other content formats like video, interactive technology, or websites. These processes can be automated, and patient education material can be delivered more efficiently with tools that are more sustainable.

Imagine the typical patient scenario infused with technology and better content: They’re led into the exam room and have their vitals taken by the nurse. The nurse identifies the patient through the practice’s electronic health record as being eligible for a cancer screening. The patient watches a brief video while they wait for the doctor to enter. Now the doctor doesn’t have to spend time educating the patient on the screening and can focus on decision making. After the consult, the patient can be handed a packet of education that is tailored specifically to them with messaging that is mapped to what they saw in the video.

“In the modern healthcare system, education and literacy will live at the intersection of rich media content, design, and technology.”

Strategy: There are more than 100,000 health and wellness apps across 62 different app stores online.1 Such fragmentation creates a trust and credibility barrier for HCPs struggling to find the appropriate mix of science and technology and are looking to form relationships with brands they can trust to help increase their practice’s efficiency and improve clinical outcomes.


Thoughtful designers can use the versatility of technology to be able to reach many more people who may not be health literate but can learn through more intuitive interfaces, competition, or interactive platforms that encourage learning about and managing their health. The good news is that technology is rapidly becoming less expensive and easier to use, creating opportunity for design to play a more significant role in patient education.

Strategy: Patients should drive the evolution of information and technology in a modern health system. We need to be listening to them, working to better understand them, and co-designing the next generation of patient education and health guidance.

Final Thoughts

Health literacy is far more than just being able to read the label of a medicine bottle. It is about knowing where to go for health information and then understanding and making use of that information, adhering to a treatment plan, and proactively managing health and wellness. Patient education and health literacy’s role in healthcare will be as important as ever over the coming decade and healthcare and pharmaceutical brands alike have an opportunity to profit by leading the charge.





About the author:

Tyler Durbin is the marketing manager of innovation at GSW. A passionate trend-watcher, Tyler analyzes and writes about the trends changing how humans interact with the world around them and the opportunities they create for healthcare and pharmaceutical brands.

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