By Andrea Palmer, President of Publicis Health Media
A doctor/TV personality and a marketer walk into a bar… wait, that’s wrong. A doctor/TV personality and a marketer take to a stage for an intimate conversion about the state of health information and the future of marketing. That this particular doctor was Dr. Sanjay Gupta and that the marketer was myself, makes me both fortunate and exceedingly better informed for the effort.
I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Gupta at the PHM HealthFront — a two-day media upfront designed specifically for healthcare. Amid a period of much change in the industry, we discussed the evolving role of healthcare media and the role of marketers in addressing patient needs. Takeaways from that discussion are helping to chart the path forward for health marketers as we emerge from the pandemic.
Meeting the consumer where they are
The COVID pandemic began little more than a century after the 1918 influenza pandemic. In those 100 years, there have been many technological and scientific advances. Yet Dr. Gupta and I pondered why, it seemed, humans weren’t reaping the full benefits of all our achievements — like vaccines.
One factor: Information, and its dissemination. In fact, Dr. Gupta believes one of the most valuable lessons from the pandemic is that bad information can be more damaging and travel faster than COVID itself. And I agree – the pandemic has made clear that disinformation sources can be detrimental to society at large, and there’s no use in trying to solve this issue through wide-scale censorship.
Instead, marketers have a responsibility to ensure there’s plenty of good information and well-presented knowledge. Do we think larger audiences will willingly go to the CDC’s website for the latest updates — or are they more likely to go to Instagram or Twitter? If bad information is easier to find, then valid information needs to be presented so that it finds its way to the user. This requires us to promote modern channels of information dissemination to combat misinformation. I believe that government and pharma companies can engage with these and other popular channels in the future to best educate and protect society.
Navigating the information economy
Information sources have become a huge topic of discussion over the past few years, especially during the pandemic. In an age when information is so readily available, there is an increasing imperative for people to, as Dr. Gupta says, “take a few extra beats” when searching and presenting information. When looking at sources, consider whether they are conflicted, whether they offer citations and whether their statements and claims can be substantiated. It’s easy for people to be susceptible to confirmation bias when searching for something on the internet (regardless of topic); finding agreement shouldn’t be the stopping point for thoughtful consideration of information consumption.
Marketers must keep in mind that we shouldn’t be maligning certain audiences or automatically assuming the worst about their information gathering. Instead, we should consider why and how they interpret information, separate from our personal point of view, and think about how they are both anticipating and receiving messages from media and marketers.
This can be a difficult but worthwhile exercise. Information is not lacking, but expertise sometimes is, and marketers should try to understand the full journey that audiences are undertaking in doing their own research and developing knowledge. By doing so, we can better understand how, and at which point, to enter ourselves into that narrative.
Adopting new technologies
We’ve seen the use of telehealth skyrocket, which begs the question: Why wasn’t this pre-existing form of technology already commonly used? Many of the benefits that were accentuated by the pandemic and the need to be safer were applicable before COVID. For example, telehealth solved problems like transportation, by eliminating the need to travel to a hospital, find parking and navigate the facility. Telehealth can broaden access to care. Marketers should take a closer look at new and underutilized technologies and break down barriers in the marketplace to drive change.
Distrust in the medical community is widespread — and there is no easy remedy. Communities of color who have experienced historical health disparities and worse outcomes tend to have less trust in their primary care physicians. Dr. Gupta believes the suspicion of institutions like hospitals, big pharma and the government is born out of a necessary and healthy skepticism — “a preserved trait in human nature,” he said, that “maybe will help prevent us from being in certain calamities as we move forward.”
At the same time, we discussed how the medical community can address distrust so that it doesn’t lead to harm. It is my belief that health marketers and advertisers have a key role to play here moving forward — from delivering factual, easily accessible information to marginalized communities and increasing equitable investments in diverse-owned publications.
Outsourcing our health
Dr. Gupta was asked what surprises him about people and their attitudes toward health, and he used his parents as an example. According to Dr. Gupta, his dad could tell you about his 401k, but likely wouldn’t be able to do the same if asked about his cholesterol.
In general, people have become so willing to outsource their health, even if it’s what most of us would agree upon as the single most important aspect of our lives. People regularly use apps check their finances or the results of their favorite sports teams — but do they use apps geared toward maintaining their physical and mental health? And beyond a consideration of health in the context of facts, figures and numbers, are people having genuine, empathetic conversations about health with those around them? As we move beyond the pandemic, there should be a concerted effort to create a paradigm shift in which health, in all shapes and forms, is prioritized higher and on a daily basis. So too, our marketing efforts.