B2C market research tactics can bolster digital health engagement efforts

A cross-industry research consortium modeled after consumer-focused market research practices is set to present its findings at HIMSS20 in March.
By Dave Muoio
02:49 pm
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Update: HIMSS20 has been canceled due to the coronavirus. Read more here.

While many would agree that healthcare is turning a corner with increasing focus on patient-friendly experiences and the consumerization of healthcare services, not every attempt in this area has been a home run. These shortcomings have been particularly disappointing in the realm of digital, where a successful, well-designed implementation of a patient-centered resource has so much to offer providers, payers and patients alike.

“There’s huge promise in digital in [being] able to scale without affecting the quality, and yet because so many digital apps are done badly, we are not only meeting those goals but people are blaming the potential of digital when often it’s that what they tested are badly designed apps that don’t take into account things that we already know about how people make changes,” Jan Oldenburg, principal at Participatory Health Consulting, said. “What we’re trying to do is bring that mix of known behavioral knowledge and insight into the world of how we create apps so that they’re more effective and have the potential of fulfill the promise of digital healthcare.”

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For the past few years, Oldenburg has taken part in a research collaborative comprised of a range of healthcare stakeholders, including payers like Blue Cross Blue Shield, providers like Mercy Health, pharmas like Teva and consumer device manufacturers like Philips and J&J. The group’s goal, explain Oldenburg and Michael McShea, a Health System Innovation Lead at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, is to emulate the market research methodologies of consumer brands.

“We’ve just been doing some really incredible research around digital engagement, which does two things,” McShea said. “One is it leverages all the understanding and knowledge and experience in digital engagement on the consumer side, which I think healthcare is very slow to adopt. [It] also looks at the uses in healthcare in a specific way: around what consumer preferences are [when it comes to digital health engagement], about how many use digital tools for their health, digital health engagement, and where they think it really best helps them in terms of changing behavior.”

In practice, the consortium’s most recent work took the form of ethnographic and co-creating research efforts. Those in turn informed a large quantitative study of more than 1,000 consumers, all focused on their attitudes toward digital health and healthy behavior change, they said.

“One of the fascinating things we found out [during this effort] was the variety of self-talk — how people talk to themselves about behavior change in positive ways,” Oldenburg said. “We sought to reinforce what they’re trying to accomplish, and how that in turn is an aspect that can be incorporated effectively into digital tools by amplifying what people are already doing.”

The research also focused on “practical” takeaways healthcare stakeholders can begin incorporating into their digital efforts, “like how comfortable are consumers sharing their health data, and how does that compare with how comfortable they are sharing other types of data in other consumer contexts,” McShea added. “Things like who they trust sharing their data with, what kinds of data they want access to [that will] help them be more engaged in their health.”

Oldenburg and McShea will be running down the consortium’s research methods and major findings for HIMSS20 attendees in a session titled “Cross-Industry Research Designing Digital Behavior Changes.” It is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10 from 3-4p.m. in room W311A.

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