Converging Healthcare and Consumer Worlds Will Require a New Ecosystem

The healthcare technology industry is in a race to invent a time machine that will transport us into the future. By accurately predicting our future healthcare states, the industry hopes to drive behavioral changes that will prevent impending illness and make supporting products successful.

I wish it were that simple. Rather than rely upon A automatically leading to B and C, healthcare technology innovators should seek deeper understanding of forces at play in the marketplace lest they find themselves the Palm Pilot marketers of the future.

Here are three paradoxes for your consideration:

  1. Cigarettes cause cancer and ultimately lead to premature death, but 42 million Americans keep lighting up.
  2. Exposure to the suns UV rays can cause skin cancer and possibly death, but many lay out at the beach without sunscreen.
  3. An obesity related condition like heart disease can be prevented, but more than a third of U.S. adults are obese.

People live in the present. Period. That’s why preventative anything is so difficult. For example, most people wouldn’t have smoke detectors in their homes if not required by law. Also, let’s say you flip a coin and give three choices: heads, tails, or don’t play, and the stakes are become rich, die immediately, or abstain. Most people would not participate because of the immediate risk to their life. Millions of people each day however choose to have one more cigarette, one more beach day, and one more French fry even though they are increasing their risk of future illness and possible death.

The farther off people try to look into the future, the less likely they are to personalized it or take action today to prevent it. The key lies in creating a strong emotional connection, transporting people into the future and giving them frequent, meaningful reminders. Governments have forced the tobacco industry to employ such a technique to educate smokers and prevent new ones. Many countries require graphic photos of disease on packs of cigarettes. Not only are smokers reminded of the risks during their purchase, but also each time they pull one out of the pack.

The consumer technology world has long understood the science of behavioral psychology and companies in that industry are profiting handsomely from activity trackers and other hands-on health promotion products.

Indeed, the healthcare and consumer technology industries are merging. In the future, they will be indistinguishable. Medical product manufacturers will benefit the most by adopting traditional consumer companies’ business methods and models. In the new consumer-medical marketplace, two drivers of a coming health care revolution will be speed to market and extreme competition.

A New Ecosystem is Needed

But there’s more. Analyzing statistics of past behaviors, studying real-time diagnostics, and introducing personalized predictive technologies won’t be enough to support preventative healthcare on a global scale. Medical product manufacturers will need to create an entire ecosystem for their products that fundamentally changes the healthcare universe. That ecosystem and the products in it must create information that is so desirable and useful to people, that they will knock down doors to get it and make immediate lifestyle changes.

This is a very tall order. Apple would not have been successful for the long haul if they simply launched an iPod. They took it upon themselves to fundamentally change how the entire music industry operates and the way we access, buy, and enjoy music. A singular vision of simple, immediate access to music and a gamble that everyone would participate drove that success.

The keys to the music industry shift instigated by Apple were wide-scale adoption and immediate gratification. If you want the latest Red Hot Chili Peppers album, you tap a couple buttons on your smartphone and you are instantly listening to it.

Against this backdrop, healthcare companies that invest in understanding the psychology of people will own the future.

As the healthcare technology industry strives to master the techniques of consumer marketers, it may be useful to heed the advice of Chicago adman Leo Burnett, who maintained, “When you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

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