Healthcare has always had a complicated relationship with technology. Its provider-centric, brick-and-mortar business model, labyrinth of regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles, and resistance to digitization have slowed the pace of innovation. However, healthcare reform and the rise of disruptive digital platforms have created a tipping point and accelerated change. Finally, after years of watching every other industry transform through technology—from retail to banking and beyond—healthcare’s heyday has arrived.

Incentivized by the impact that blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the internet of things and other disruptive technologies are having on healthcare delivery, investors and tech giants such as IBM, Amazon and Microsoft are stepping into health. Health companies, in turn, know they need to evolve and are turning to technology in order to compete. Further, opportunities at the nexus of health and tech have given rise to a new generation of health technology start-ups with DNA from both industries at their core. In fact, 2017 was the strongest year ever for investment in digital health, with more than $5 billion flowing into categories as diverse as consumer health information, personal health tools and tracking, EHR/clinical workflow and even digital therapies. 

Regardless of whether organizations have roots in health, tech or a hybrid of both, all share a common mission of solving critical problems in today’s new world of value-based care. However, perceptions of health technology among critical buyers can make it challenging for solution providers to differentiate themselves and demonstrate that they are listening to—and acting upon—customer feedback.

Case in point: Edelman recently conducted research into perceptions of electronic health record (EHR) technology among physicians of all specialties, and while the results may make vendors squirm, they offer a window into the communications opportunities with this audience. Nearly two-thirds of physicians (62 percent) told us that they don’t think technology vendors understand their needs and pain points, and 90 percent think that digital tools could be improved if doctors had more input into their development.

A pediatrician in Seattle told us, “I almost dread interacting with the EHR, because of the inefficiencies in the experience. I see the value because I understand how important information is when making decisions. But the flip side is the dread, because of the bloat in the system.”

Speaking more broadly, a plastic surgeon in private practice added, “Technology has made things 100 percent worse. If you gave me a pen and paper, I could take better care of patients. All these systems are full of data that has nothing to do with the decisions I am making.”

The message and the mandate are clear: physicians don’t want to be just customers, they want to be collaborators. They want to be part of the solution and have a voice in creating tools that work for them. Health-tech companies that want to reach physicians need to understand this about their audience and develop communications strategies to not just help them feel engaged, but also ensure they are engaged and that they remain a part of the product development ecosystem.

Buyer skepticism and other communications challenges health-tech companies face—how to show value, how to increase adoption in a crowded market, how to build their brand and build trust—are not new, nor are they unique to health technology. The shift that many companies make from their B2C origins to a B2B model and mindset is also a challenge as many evolve and mature. Yet, addressing these challenges through the dual lens of healthcare and technology requires a new fluency, much like that of next-generation health-tech startups. At Edelman, we call it “double DNA.”

As health and technology continue to converge, and this nascent field finds its way, the challenge for communications marketers will be in knowing when to apply critical lessons from other industries and rely on tried-and-true strategies, and when to throw the playbook out the window.

One thing is certain: health-tech has arrived. Soon, we’ll simply call it health.

Kym White is global chair, Health.
Collin Roberts is a senior account supervisor, Technology, New York