Rx for Healthtech Communication: Can A Better Bedside Manner Translate Digital Medicine into Practice?

The idea that smartphones, wearable sensors, cloud technology or artificial intelligence can revolutionize healthcare isn’t exactly far-fetched or new. Tools already exist to measure, analyze and communicate health conditions in ways that can help people change their lifestyle and behaviors, clinicians treat patients and researchers discover medical breakthroughs.

And yet, healthcare hasn’t experienced the same growth in innovation that we’ve seen in retail, financial services and other industries. Why has digital medicine yet to deliver on its promise? What is keeping the tech industry and the healthcare field from building and delivering impactful solutions together?

Well, it’s not for a lack of trying. The convergence hasn’t been easy, a topic that was discussed at length at various healthcare-focused sessions at South by Southwest (SXSW) last month. Among the challenges referenced is a key difference between the two sectors: the criteria for success. In tech, the quality of the product and speed to market are paramount. In healthcare, quality and timelines are important, but other factors are even more critical: patient safety, privacy, price, relationships with key industry stakeholders, and so on.

I recently joined Bloom, an incubator transmedia agency within Ruder Finn, to develop an integrated communications practice exclusively dedicated to the healthtech sector. At Bloom, we have been thinking about how we as marketers and communicators can play a role in pushing the boundaries of technology in healthcare. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, we think the path forward lies in engagement strategies that transcend traditional boundaries by:

Starting with empathy, and a desire to get it right for each individual user. We need to make people care, and to do that we need to personalize the discussion and make it relevant. With so much focus on technology, it can be easy to forget that, ultimately, healthcare is about interactions between people, not the number of clicks on a website, or app downloads, or log-ins or time spent on a device.

Showcasing how collaboration drives innovation cycles. Healthcare has a range of stakeholders that need to be satisfied — patients, doctors, caregivers, hospitals, payers, governments, drug developers and so on. They make up a broader ecosystem that can be guild-like, requiring collaboration and cooperation among all participants to ensure success. An app or wearable that patients find helpful won’t go very far if the data it provides is of little clinical value to doctors or difficult for them to interpret. But that doesn’t mean we should stop there. For digital medicine to deliver on its promise, healthcare stakeholders must encourage tech startups, scaleups and established players in the space to learn from experience, iterate, adjust and try again.

Celebrating those who are working through the process to innovate healthcare. Yes, healthcare has a lot of catching up to do if it’s ever going to be on a par with other industries that have embraced disruptive technologies. However, describing the theoretical benefits of a novel approach is much simpler than actually delivering them to patients, which is an ambitious and incredibly difficult undertaking. We should be celebrating those who are actively working through the process, transforming healthcare from a realm that is intermittent and reactive to one that is continuous and proactive.

Engaging the public to reimagine how technology can be used. It’s not just about inventing new technologies. To move the needle, we need to harness our collective desire for better healthcare. Encouraging this shift in healthtech requires that we communicate an opportunity to contribute to something larger, a clear benefit for individual stakeholders taking part and an inspiring call to action.

When I was at a fast-moving tech company focused on the very complex world of clinical research, identifying the right PR partner was challenging. It was difficult to find one that understood the needs and culture of a company at the intersection of two very different industries.

The opportunity to change that is what brought me to Bloom. I wanted to build a communications practice that truly gets “it,” gets healthtech companies and how to pivot between healthcare and tech, as a relatively new, converging field finds its way.

It’s no longer a question of whether the healthcare industry is ripe for disruption or not. The elements are in place. It’s now up to us all to take the next step and solve the problems that urgently need remedying.

Healthtech needs better feedback loops to thrive, as does PR, so please reach out and share your thoughts. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!