Healthcare Is Undergoing a Digital Revolution, Courtesy of Smart Devices

It’s also leading to a rise in consumer engagement

a pixelated heart with red leaking out of a hole in the bottom
Smart devices are changing the face of the healthcare industry.
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Looking for a healthy and active way to spend this weekend? Consider heading to the apple orchard. Apple farms all across the U.S. are predicting that the 2019 apple harvest season will see increasing crop yields. And who doesn’t love apples?

The 150-year-old Welsh proverb “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” now carries brand new meaning because of digital innovation. Yes, we’re talking about the Apple Watch, or any wearables that can track consumer health data.

Innovations in digital technology have allowed smart, connected products to collect and transmit information. Companies in many industries try to utilize such data to reach customers with personalized messages and also adapt their product or service offerings.

The latest CMO survey shows that marketing executives plan to nearly double spending on data analytics in the next three years, from 6.6% of overall marketing budget this year to 11.3% in 2022. Healthcare is the top industry sector in terms of expected marketing budget increases.

Earlier this year, Aetna launched a new app called Attain. Through the use of an Apple Watch, Attain provides Aetna members personalized goals, tracks their daily activities, recommends healthy actions and even rewards them for taking those actions. This really drove home CMO David Edelman’s idea of designing personalized experiences for customers based on their lifetime health journey. The innovation is a perfect fit for Aetna’s “You don’t join us. We join you” rebrand, which Edelman launched one year after he became Aetna’s CMO. The 166-year-old company has increased customer satisfaction and brand loyalty due to digital engagement through the Apple Watch.

Innovations in digital technology have allowed smart, connected products to collect and transmit information.

Thanks to advances in digital and wearable technologies, having a doctor’s appointment online or via mobile apps will soon become a reality for Americans. Doctors can provide diagnostic services from a virtual clinic based on data transmitted from wearables. Health-wearable device programs only work if patients are willing to adopt the device and share their personal data. The good news is that a recent survey from connected healthcare solutions company VivaLNK found that about two-thirds of respondents were willing to use wearable devices if it meant fewer trips to the doctor’s office. From the provider’s side, a survey of hospital executives conducted by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and AT&T showed that 47% of hospitals are already administering remote in-home monitoring via wearables and smartphone apps.

Consumer wearables such as the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch and Fitbit not only track daily activities but also monitor heart rate, blood oxygen, stress level, sleep quality and, the latest, blood pressure. Some allow users to schedule a virtual doctor’s appointment. Health wearables have proven so effective that health insurance companies such as Aetna and UnitedHealthcare are offering incentives to encourage the use of wearable devices and mobile health devices. Life insurance companies such as John Hancock are also following suit.

According to Statista, the number of connected wearable devices worldwide is expected to surpass 1.1 billion in 2022. Meanwhile, the telecom industry is transforming from 4G to 5G, fostering further digital engagement. Companies are providing more for consumer well-being in this movement—but the story does not end here. The benefits of digital engagement extend well beyond the consumer-company dyad and into the general public.

The idea of crowdsourcing is not new to marketers, but are you familiar with crowdsourcing in the form of citizen science? Citizen science refers to collecting and sharing data from members of the general public for scientific projects. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park has mobilized the general public to work on massive projects such as the Christmas Bird Count, Butterfly Project and Hummingbird Survey. As stated on Citizen Science’s homepage, the general public is “helping federal agencies accelerate innovation through public participation.” The collective effort from members of the general public has helped advance projects in such areas as environmental protection, cyber infrastructure, geological survey and recovery from natural disasters.

Recently, citizen science has found its way into the healthcare sector. Platforms such as PatientsLikeMe allow patients to share their personal experience in many disease areas with other patients and the medical community. Scientists then study the public-generated medical big data for more effective disease management and possible cure.

Healthcare is but one of many industries faced with new opportunities due to innovation propelled by consumer digital engagement. In a future where data will no doubt be a source of competitive advantage, fostering customer digital engagement and harnessing its power prove essential.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 7, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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