Commentary

New Role Of Health Sites Prompts Question: Can A Brand Become An Ally in Sickness?

This week, website Healthline.com released the latest in its “The State of” series. This edition, “The 2017 State of Cancer Report: The Impact of Digital Information and Patient Support Networks,” explores cancer, how people react to a diagnosis, where they find support, and how their digital reactions vary according to age.

The site plans the launch of a breast-cancer support app in the first quarter of 2018.

The report and subsequent content are intended to make the disease and its treatment more approachable. Tracy Stickler, Healthline’s senior vice president of content, says: “The serious news is often delivered with medical terms that patients don’t understand. Many newly diagnosed cancer patients reach for laptops and smartphones for information and to ease their anxiety.”

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The study revealed some interesting numbers.

According to Healthline, 89% of cancer patients and caregivers go to the web to search for information about a diagnosis, with 49% of millennials seeking Internet-based information the same day as diagnosis. Millennials are also three times more likely to join an online support group, with 48% of that group relying solely on their clinical care team to make decisions. Baby boomers reported relying on their team 38% of the time.

Stickler and her team hope to use this information to pave a way for Healthline to accommodate both groups, based on this data.

A second company called Remedy Health Media, which dubs itself the “anti-WebMD,” since it is a group of people who have been diagnosed with a chronic condition rather than a site that aids in that diagnosis, has similar aspirations. The company hosts outlets like Diabetes Focus and Remedy Health Guides. 

After the success of its digital venture, the "Live Bold, Live Now" initiative, it plans to expand its multimedia documentary series into a new series called "Bridging the Gap." It will tell stories about doctors and their patients. Expected to follow is a podcast called "Doctors That Inspire Us." It will offer “immersive, inspirational patient stories” and place a premium on reimaging how healthcare advertisers can reach their prospective audiences.

What the two sites have in common is their willingness to offer an online place of comfort and information to people suffering from serious conditions. The emphasis is placed on the human aspects of illness. The sites take a revolutionary tone, asserting that medical information found on a trusted platform can be as good as info received by a medical doctor.

“I truly believe that there is no boundary,” says Jim Curtis, president of Remedy Health Media. “In a digital world, people oftentimes have more access to trustworthy, inspirational information and advice than they do when actually seeing their doctor.”

Considering the popularity — and polarity — of sites like ad-sponsored WebMD and the public’s eagerness to use the site to self-diagnose, the concept of health-focused websites aiding in the empowerment and treatment of those already diagnosed is curious and exciting.

But when does a site cross over from being a brand to becoming an ally? And who makes that distinction?  

The internet has always been a source of democratic dispersion of information. When it comes to one’s health and the choices made following diagnosis, the need for trusted, tested digital sources of information will only become more important. These brands are pushing the boundaries of what care can look like by giving those who are ill an outlet for information and support.

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