Finally, picture a healthcare community that has found creative ways to fit these treatments into the schedules of busy Americans. How well would it work?
All of this happened in 2009 to promote H1N1 awareness, vaccination and treatment with Tamiflu. Many of us in the industry don't talk about this because it happened in our version of "The Other America" -- public health programs.
Flu.gov was a bold and multidimensional program driven by a group with the catchy name: "The Health and Human Services (HHS) Interagency Public Affairs Group on Influenza Preparedness and Response." This is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services many of us don't know much about because we are typically very focused on the Food and Drug Administration.
I cannot imagine a better way to modernize the FDA's important mission than to look at what we have learned from other parts of HHS where chances are taken, investments are made and lessons are freely available. You can read about Flu.gov here.
The greatest success in this campaign came from an explicit acknowledgement that health is a consumer good in the economic sense. The goods that are consumed meet the needs of the consumer on their terms and have the right blend of communicated value and convenience. Messages and service delivery must fit into the lives of busy Americans and make the case for action. If this is followed by innovations in care delivery, it is more likely that consumers will engage.
Here are a few lessons from this effort:
1) Broad social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter must not only be integrated into the campaign, but valued for the role they play in influencing the influential. People expect questions to be asked and answered quickly in these places. A quick scroll through http://twitter.com/flugov shows a team working hard to debunk myths and misunderstandings about vaccine safety.
Here you'll find a dozen recent posts like "NPR Health Blog: New Harvard study reveals America's attitude toward flu vaccine. http://bit.ly/cGhKTR #H1N1"or "WHO Updates International #H1N1 Flu Situation. http://bit.ly/13z7c3." These platforms aggregate and distribute data that information brokers and advocates need to do their work. Consumer health marketers often forget that beyond individual consumers making personal decisions about their own health, there are consumers who play a vital role in educating others about diseases and treatments.
2) Health works well when delivered in a "third place," as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz described the goal for his cafes: to be a midpoint between home and work. At a recent presentation, Helena Foulkes, CMO of CVS Caremark Corporation, showed a map of all hospitals in the U.S. and then overlaid CVS store locations. Her point was that geographic accessibility to care is one of the greatest opportunities to improve healthcare: most Americans live within two miles of a retail outlet but more than ten miles from a hospital or clinic.
For the flu, that meant tens of thousands of flu promotions and high-visibility programs to help those who could not afford vaccination. How about drive-through care? The world's largest H1N1 immunization drive-through ran for two days in mid-November 2009. Approximately 20,000 people took advantage of a 10-lane drive-through vaccination clinic at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., setting a Guinness World Record. Informal analysis revealed that earned media on radio and very high levels of social updates on Twitter, Facebook and influential health advocate bloggers created an ability to drive more awareness for such geo- and time-specific events.
Those of us who live in the America of highly regulated health marketing can learn something from this other America. I hope we see these two worlds converging because they both share the goal of making sure we all get the treatments we need, when we need them so we can have the best health outcomes individually and as a society.