Healthcare Marketing Can Benefit From Design-Based Thinking

A Human Approach to Healthcare

One of the most common pitfalls happening in healthcare marketing is that we are becoming the victims of being experts. From wearable devices to educational campaigns and product platforms, we believe dogmatically in new technology, eschew the basics of what created our problems in the first place, and expect the market to immediately embrace our solution. 

The reality is, this is rarely the case. The hard truth is that the problems we try to solve in healthcare are rarely our own. They’re specific to the individual, and this individual gets lost in a disease, or a drug, or a problem that we approach on a mass scale. Balancing the need for individualized, unique healthcare experiences with the need for large-scale change is the biggest challenge we face in healthcare marketing—and it’s become crucial to address it.

A Call for Empathy

The disconnect between marketing and the actual problems we face in healthcare forces consumers to default to choices or products that aren’t made with them in mind. Last year, 83% of people reported not being able to use their wearable health device properly. This statistic is representative of the larger problem of healthcare: a systematic failure that can be traced back to the inception of a project. We must start at the beginning; we must start with the human elements of the problems we face and create solutions that marry advances in technology with the fundamental human nature of the problem itself.



What Exactly is Design?

Design is often thought of as a downstream activity, an aesthetic task that should be outsourced to vendors. Design-based thinking is a process: an action, a verb—not a noun. It offers us a new way to think about solving problems and discover new opportunities. By systematically breaking down what works and doesn’t work in healthcare, we can start to create a system that provides solutions created out of a desire to help people live healthier, happier lives.

Anyone who works in healthcare can tell you about the financial, social, and psychological ramifications of medication non-adherence. The simple act of not taking your medication as prescribed can create a ripple effect of negative consequences that need a bigger fix further down the line. If we can eliminate the need to apply band-aid, solutions to huge problems and connect and align the patient with the right solution at the beginning, we might be able to get ahead of the train before it goes down the wrong tracks. 

Design and Healthcare: Rules for Engagement 

1. Begin with Empathy

Empathy is the foundation of design-based thinking. This makes sense: human problems require human solutions. We must empathize with the root of the behaviors we are trying to change or affect. When marketing is dedicated to the health and well being of people, the imperative falls on us to fully understand the nuances of our consumer’s lives: what’s important to them, how they think, why and when they act—this is what is meant by empathy in a design-based paradigm. 

2. Allow Individual Motivations to guide Technology. 

Empathy helps remind us that at the end of the day, it’s not about the solution, the pill, or even the groundbreaking science if you can’t tell a story that resonates and empathizes with the needs and desires of the people who need it. These people and their needs should be dictating the solutions. Technology and commercialization should be in response to need, not the other way around. 

3. Understand Design, Understand the System

Design is meant to encompass all the moving parts of the whole system’s operations: the language that forms ideas, how patients interpret products, how we engage their needs and drive the messaging that fuels behavior. Design is thinking about the reality of the individuals and their psychology, then testing, refining, and optimizing outcomes so the results are never a surprise. 

From disease awareness to product brands that inspire and engage, design-based thinking models have the potential to address the other side of data: they have the ability to make healthcare human again.

1 comment about "Healthcare Marketing Can Benefit From Design-Based Thinking".
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  1. Leslie Nolen from The Radial Group, September 9, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    Great article. I was highly annoyed by a WaPo article yesterday which quoted "experts" who blamed medication adherence issues on irrational decisions by patients. Naturally, all that was needed to fix this situation was a hefty dose of behavioral economics (backed up with technology). No mention of poor treatment buy-in, med costs, side effect concerns, or any of the other factors that actually influence patient 'adherence.'

    A design-driven approach would have been much more relevant and useful. Wish I thought they'd see this piece!

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