Digital and Online Health Resources: The Trust Paradox

In late 2015, PwC announced their top ten health industry issues to look out for in 2016. Amongst them, cyber security concerns coming to healthcare technology, and rightly so. With more using digital health apps and services, privacy and cyber security will be top of mind for both consumers and providers. A recent Decision Architects survey, designed to explore the attitudes of patients towards self-care (incl. diagnosis, treatments and management) and the use of online and mobile applications in healthcare, provides additional insight into the cyber security concerns of patients. In today’s blog, we will explore some of the key findings of that research and discuss the implications for patients and providers alike.

The “digital” healthcare space has experienced rapid growth these last few years; this is undeniable and well documented. As much as any other industry we’ve seen disruptive change arrive from new technologies and online resources. The range of healthcare related “apps” on the “app” store providing a telling barometer of scale to the mHealth (mobile health) landscape, with some 165,000 applications currently available.

According to our data:

 70% of patients said they would look for information online about possible conditions or illnesses before discussing it with a healthcare professional

 78% of patients have heard of (59% have used) health related websites and apps (incl. patients.co.uk, WebMD, NHS choices)

I’m sure this sort of data would not come as a surprise to many reading this blog, and, even raise the question in your mind, “what security concerns?” with so many patients utilising these technologies.

Well, from our own data, the answer is clear, and that is: Trust!

We would suggest that those healthcare stakeholders engaged in online and digital offerings still have a lot of work to do, in order to convert this opportunity into reward.

  • 59%  Don’t like to share personal data online.
  • 26%  Only,  show high trust in online professional advice websites
  • 15%  Only, show high trust for online forums and discussions

We can extrapolate from this that mobile health engagement is high, but the extent to which a personal is willing to take action from that engagement is unclear.Indeed, digital health care consumers are drawing an important paradox that all companies working in this sector should be aware of. As we’ve seen before – yes, lots of people use internet for health purpose, however:

As with all products or services to enter any new market, there is a life cycle from introduction to growth, through maturity and beyond. For each product or service, different problems will need to be overcome to take those next steps in that cycle. For mobile health, solving this “trust paradox” will require a methodical approach:

  1. Build trust – establish credentials
  2. Segment – target accordingly
  3. Differentiate – stand out from the crowd

Establishing trust with your consumer is key to any successful business. Healthcare may not operate in the typical BTC manner like other industries do, yet for healthcare providers establishing that trust is perhaps never more so important. Our research shows (Fig.1), that unsurprisingly, GP’s, local NHS hospitals and Pharmacists receive highest trust levels amongst consumers, while professional health advice websites, online forums etc. perform relatively poorly. However, this pre-established trust with HCP’s presents an opportunity for mobile and digital health providers. Only through endorsement will they be able to accelerate this cycle of establishing trust with its consumers. The goal is not to usurp HCP’s, but rather act as a viable, reliable and trusted option. With healthcare costs spiralling, with scheduling bottlenecks and greater demand than there is supply, the opportunity is there to work in synergy with established healthcare systems if this trust can be established.

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In any marketplace, there will be distinct groups of consumers – some willing to adopt or try new products and technology early (i.e. the typical “early adopter”) and others more willing to wait and see (i.e. the typical “laggards”) and many profiles in between of course. Segmenting those consumers is key in establishing what levers mobile and digital health companies need to pull in order to gain the greatest return. Market research can help understand those segments, the healthcare channels they use, their attitudes and beliefs to healthcare related issues and products and their actual behaviours. Understanding these segments can help mobile and digital health companies establish relationships and build trust with them.

Earlier in this blog, I discussed the mHealth (mobile health) landscape, with some 165,000 applications currently available. That’s a lot of choice in an area not everyone will understand or trust themselves to use. Differentiating or standing out from the crowd is key to establishing presence in this crowded landscape.

The opportunity for mHealth / digital health companies is undeniable; our data (like many others) supports this belief. Yet, converting mHealth engagement into actual activation still seems some way off in many instances. Over the next few months and years it will be interesting to follow those mHealth applications and services that rise to the top and establish themselves in the minds of the consumer as a trusted healthcare source or provider.