Why communication has become paramount to the success of connected health

Source: National Health Executive Mar/Apr 2014

Brian O’Connor, chair of the European Connected Health Alliance, discusses the importance of ensuring patients understand the benefits of connected health.

Connected healthcare is rapidly moving from future vision to contemporary reality. Despite this, for all the discussion of technical and commercial considerations, the way in which connected health is communicated, to healthcare professionals and patients alike, has been somewhat neglected as a discussion point.

Universally sensitive issues like changes in healthcare will always attract critics and debate, and the consequences of poor communication strategies can be dire, as NHS England has recently experienced. The way in which the forthcoming medical records database was communicated with patients has been publically criticised, to such an extent the project has been significantly delayed in order that the NHS has another go at informing patients before it is initiated.

Having received limited media attention to date, connected health has suddenly hit the headlines but for all the wrong reasons. Patients, journalists, and even GPs have not been properly informed of the purpose of the database, what the benefits are, and how to opt-out. A failure to allay fears over privacy and data security the first time round means the entire connected health industry is now on the back foot.

I recently worked with some of the leading connected health communicators in Europe on a report looking specifically at the communication issues that need to be addressed if connected health is to be a success.

The ‘Communicating Connected Health’ report, written by Proof Communication, found that many opportunities are being missed – from effectively demonstrating evidence to healthcare buyers, to driving consumer demand, securing strategic partnerships and shaping new regulation. Organisations with very promising technologies may never succeed if these issues are not addressed.

Technology development: communication between public and private sectors

It is unlikely that any single organisation, public or private, has all the capabilities required to offer a complete connected health solution, so it is extremely important that organisations understand where they sit in the value chain, and open themselves up to collaboration.

The NHS will rely more than ever on private technology companies to deliver connected health, but they must work together to ensure the most appropriate system is deployed.

This means forging productive and profitable relationships, developing strategic partnerships, learning from each other, and ultimately capitalising on the enormous potential of connected health to save money and produce better health outcomes.

Engaging with the NHS is notoriously difficult for private companies. According to recent figures, 60% of UK-based entrepreneurs from the health technology sector claim there is resistance within the NHS to working with private sector companies. 85% identified barriers such as excessive decision-making times and difficulty finding the right person to speak to. Over 80% feel that NHS procurement processes are too complicated.

However, there is evidence that the NHS is increasingly outsourcing contracts to the private sector. The NHS must communicate what it needs from the private sector, particularly in terms of ensuring that technology companies recognise the bigger picture of connected health systems from a health care provider perspective. It is much more significant than isolated tools or software, they are selling new ways of delivering healthcare, capturing information, and utilising data.

There is a need is to create a common dialogue around more collaboration in the innovation process and data-sharing. New contracts are building in KPIs around joined-up performance benefits and outcome measures, which means collaboration is becoming a requirement from the NHS perspective, but the private sector doesn’t yet have a solution for this.

Informing patients and driving demand: a collaborative approach

The issues with highlighted just how important effective communication is in introducing connected health initiatives.
This involves communicating clearly, succinctly and comprehensively. Careful planning is needed to make the message relevant to each of the different audiences involved, ensuring they are made aware of the benefits that will apply to them as individuals. Multiple channels must be utilised to make sure the message reaches as many people as possible over a sustained period.

Healthcare is an emotive issue, so proposed change is often met with caution. Until the market matures, audiences will have questions and concerns about the connected health proposition. The NHS and technology companies must work together to consistently address the balance between risk and reward in their communication programmes to address this, and it is critical to be open about both.

Building trust is also crucial. Audiences need to be educated about the risks, and what is happening to mitigate them. This demonstrates an understanding of what patients or customers care about, and that their concerns are taken seriously. Collaboration with organisations across the sector is becoming increasingly important in this regard. All parties have a real responsibility to inform patients and industry about connected health and its impact.

There is consensus among experts that the connected health sector is not currently utilising the media to full effect. The press can drive consumer demand; influence policy makers; and inform healthcare providers, but the opportunity is being underutilised because not enough is being shared, and the stories on offer tend to be too self-serving or too forward looking.

To use the media as a mechanism for change, the sector must provide content and present stories that demonstrate how connected health is already becoming part of today’s medical environment, rather than simply a future vision. People still assume that connected health is something for tomorrow, but the reality is that your doctor could prescribe you an app today.

The ‘Communicating Connected Health’ report demonstrates that this kind of collaborative, strategic communication can help private organisations overcome some of the major barriers to the widespread adoption of connected health technologies. From demonstrating evidence to buyers, driving consumer demand, securing strategic partnerships, through to shaping new regulation and influencing governments, the way that the sector communicates now will play an enormous role in securing the success of the connected health sector in the future.

The report authors

• Brian O’Connor, chair, European Connected Health Alliance

• Emmanuelle Pierga, director of communication, Orange Healthcare

• Sue Dunkerton, co-director, HealthTech and Medicines Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN)

• Stephen McComb, centre leader, Connected Health Innovation Centre (CHIC)

• Dan Jones, director of communications, Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI)

• Collette Johnson, business development manager, Plextek Consulting

• Madelon Kortenaar, marketing manager, Sitekit

• Mindy Daeschner, director, psHealth

• Neil Woodcock, healthcare marketing specialist, Mitel


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