Tunnah’s musings: what’s in it for me?

Paul Tunnah


At the heart of it we’re all selfish creatures, we’re all driven by our own internal desires.

Don’t worry – this is not going to be a rant on humanity, but it is an important observation and one that we need to bear in mind in the work that we do, the aspirations that we have and the way in which we try to achieve those aspirations. Internal desires are also very complex things that vary from the quick fix delivered by things like drugs and social media (which I spoke about last time) right through to much longer term drivers deeper within our psyche.

But these ‘selfish’ drivers can have a much broader positive impact where the desire is for the “feel good” factor and personal sense of well-being that comes from knowing you’re doing something that will help others. The challenge is that these more altruistic drivers are often supplanted by shorter-term more truly selfish ones.

“At the heart of it we’re all selfish creatures, we’re all driven by our own internal desires.”

So it was good to see so many people take the time out of their day job to join the healthcare social media global camp down in Brighton in the UK earlier this week. For those who have never heard of this, this live meeting stemmed from the activities of the online healthcare social media (abbreviated to ‘hcsm’) Twitter groups that meet regularly for virtual roundtable discussions. There are a number of such groups representing different global communities from every continent, such as the healthcare social media Europe group that ‘meets’ every Friday at noon UK time to discuss topics through the #hcsmeu hashtag on Twitter. For a summary of the different groups it’s worth checking out the different #hcsm hashtags here.

The really interesting thing about these discussions is that they bring together different elements of the healthcare spectrum with healthcare providers, patients, pharma and industry observers all sharing views. The atmosphere is one of constructive collaboration and ideas sharing around how healthcare delivery can be improved for the good of patients, with selfish self-promoters very quickly finding they are unpopular!

Over the course of the day, three key areas were discussed:

• Trust filters and health information

• The evolution of the HCP-patient relationship

• Healthcare design, healthcare delivery: social media, the ideal, and the real

There’s a logical flow to these three areas in that, to my mind, they sequentially cover the user journey when it comes to social media. Good health information, which is deemed as trustworthy, is a key first step to getting people online. The online HCP-patient relationship is then about getting people engaging online and finally healthcare design and delivery is about how we change the way we manage healthcare online. To sum it up in simple terms: use -&gt, engage -&gt, change.

“Good health information, which is deemed as trustworthy, is a key first step to getting people online.”

When it came to trust filters and health information some key themes emerged about how patients deal with the sheer volume of data online and how they know what is accurate and inaccurate. It’s clear that there are tremendous differences between countries around the quantity and quality of online healthcare information and almost universally, so far as patients are concerned, insufficient contribution from healthcare providers and pharma on accurate medical information. Yes, these people are busy and yes, there are regulations that get in the way – but the problem is there and these are obstacles that must be overcome.

Discussion around the HCP-patient relationship saw some diverse views on what this looks like. One notion is that we have a whole spectrum of patients and doctors ranging from those who are extremely unengaged (offline and online) to those who are actively engaged online. Analogies were raised that this relationship is like a Tango dance, where at times one partner leads and at times the other, with a further analogy comparing it to online dating, at which point I got slightly lost in metaphor land. However, the obvious irony here is that a truly good doctor-patient relationship is surely one where the patient never needs to see the doctor!

The final topic is perhaps the most intricate of them all. At the heart of healthcare design and delivery is the concept of “participatory medicine” – making sure all parties are actively involved and working towards the common goal of wellness. This is an area fraught with all kinds of challenges to be overcome from incentives to get people involved, through privacy issues and into the details of what the right platforms are.

For me though, the incentives component is the most challenging and critical of all these factors, which brings me right back to my opening supposition. I would postulate that issues around privacy and developing the right platform are relatively (although not absolutely) simple with the right legal advice and development teams. After all, we’ve all seen plenty of examples of well-produced platforms that respect the privacy regulations and are transparent in their motives.

“You can build the most stunning piece of digital architecture the world has ever seen, but unless you give people a selfish reason to use it then it won’t succeed.”

The much bigger challenge is the incentive. You can build the most stunning piece of digital architecture the world has ever seen, but unless you give people a selfish reason to use it then it won’t succeed.

“What’s in it for me”, also known as WIIFM, is therefore the question we’re all either consciously or unconsciously asking ourselves when we’re enticed to do something new, change our behaviour or start using a new digital channel. And to come back to the point about quick fixes versus longer term incentives, the longer term the incentive is then the more dramatic the incentive has to be. Just look at the horrific images we now see on cigarette packets – yet people still smoke because it’s not going to kill them tomorrow.

This is the point at which the fantastic esoteric, altruistic, visionary (add any other creative thinking adjective) discussion that takes place at events like the healthcare social media global camp (#hcsmgbc) needs to merge with the WIIFM world to produce living, breathing solutions (something we’d all like to see). To bring these great ideas to reality needs investment and the right incentives for healthcare providers, patients, pharma and any other groups to get involved.

In many ways the process is similar to the drug development world. Around the world there are hordes of scientists looking into all kinds of disease pathways and drug interactions simply because they’re fascinated by them. That’s great and the concept of WIIFM shouldn’t even be in the room there (or at #hcsmgbc) because it might stifle the creativity and innovation. However, for any of those drugs to reach market, the WIIFM filter will inevitably be applied – for pharma (who wants to make money), for the healthcare provider (who wants to treat patients better), for the payer (who wants to save money) and for the patient (who wants to get better).

“…don’t rely on the hope of ‘build it and they will come’ – focus on ‘construct it so they can’t stay away’.”

This same WIIFM filter therefore also needs to be applied to any new digital healthcare initiatives to understand if they can be successful, especially where they try to connect different communities. If you can’t, very honestly, define what’s in it for all sides don’t expect it to work. And remember, the more truly defined and selfish the WIIFM the more chance it has of succeeding – qualitatively enhancing the health of their patients will be a driver for all doctors, but it’s much more powerful if it also directly save the doctor quantifiable time and money.

If you can tackle the WIIFM issues then some of the great ideas generated by meetings like #hcsmgbc can become practical, powerful solutions. But don’t rely on the hope of “build it and they will come” – focus on “construct it so they can’t stay away”.

Until next month, stay well.

Thanks to all at #hcsmgbc for some truly stimulating discussion and ideas. For some photos from the event, visit the #hcsmeu facebook page.

About the author:

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

Do digital healthcare initiatives really understand user motives?