Health content has to fulfill a range of needs and users since our personal health affects every single person, every single day. This means health content must rise up to the immense challenge of being honest, credible, and unbiased by external influences, as well as be written in an approachable way with great navigation to get people to the content they need the moment they need it.

Here’s a glimpse of the user behavior and expectations surrounding health content.

79% of Americans said they would be willing to use a wearable device to manage their health, where a 45% wanted tracking of symptoms while 43% wanted it to manage a personal health issue or condition. Forbes

Eight in 10 American internet users have looked online for health information…Americans now face an onslaught of digital health content products and marketing from a variety of organizations. Health Content + Credibility Brief

About 80% of Americans have looked up health content online

More than 75% of all patients expect to use digital services in the future. McKinsey Digital Patient Survey, 2014

The number of consumers with at least one health or fitness app downloaded onto their smartphone has increased from 16% to 32% in the past two years. PWC, “Top Health Industry Issues of 2016”

7 in 10 U.S. adults have tracked a health indicator for themselves or for someone else. Of those, 34% share their health tracking records or notes with another person or group. Pew Research

When it comes to audience reached vs. time spent, health information has grown 10% to 62% since 2013 and remains ahead of online banking and travel. ComScore

WebMD has approximately 8.5 million unique U.S. visitors per month and ranks 153 most visited website in U.S. Quantcast

Search drives nearly 3x as many visitors to hospital sites compared to non-search visitors. Think With Google

Almost half of all potential patients investigated their health care needs for more than two weeks before scheduling an appointment, and one in five patients booked that appointment digitally. Medicom Health

State of Health Content

As IBM Healthcare’s Big Data & Analytics Hub shares, “Every healthcare organization is at a different point in the journey toward turning their information into insight. Healthcare organizations need to gain greater insight from their data in order to meet federally mandated requirements for reporting and outcomes, support new insurance exchanges, and adhere to mandated coverage requirements. Even aside from government requirements, data analysis is essential to remain sustainable and cost-efficient, support clinical collaboration tools and increase access to healthcare with improved consumer engagement. Additionally, the era of big data is here, requiring organizations to manage growing volumes of structured, unstructured and streaming content.”

As it has in most industries, social content has made an impact on people’s search and share behaviors regarding health content. WebMD’s CEO David Schlanger explains, “In the digital ecosystem it’s become clear that people are using social platforms as means to do more than just connect with their friends and family, but really as destinations to find information and consume information. So we want to make sure that WebMD content is discoverable and can be consumed on the social platforms. That’s an important strategy to make sure that we grow deeper engagement with our existing users and bring in more users to using WebMD and Medscape as content sources.”

More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health.  Mediabistro


Healthcare security pros need to pick up where those traditional security tools end and realize that it’s the data that is ultimately at risk. The safeguarding of the EHR data is as important, if not more imperative, than just protecting the network or the perimeter. Data and IT Trends for 2017

This Adobe commercial nails it in this hilarious yet horrifying piece of health content gone wrong when dealing with a snakebite:

Alex Amado, Adobe’s vice president in Experience Marketing, breaks down the ad: “This new spot reminds us that we can’t just look at data in a silo. Everything we do as marketers culminates in an experience for our customers. Even if some of the numbers look good, the overall experience may still be poor. We want to help marketers think in terms of experience, not just performance.” 

It’s important that those charged with producing, maintaining and promoting health content heed the warning signs highlighted by our content effectiveness index report and Adobe’s clever commercial. As the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, “The story for the healthcare industry is a cautionary tale and one that bears watching. At a global level, and using general population (informed public plus mass population) findings* with 28 countries surveyed, healthcare is near the bottom with a trust score of 61, just ahead of Telecommunications, Energy and Financial Services. In the U.S. it is tied for second to last with the automotive industry, and is doing just a little better than Financial Services, which although in last place has experienced a remarkable rebound in trust since the financial crisis.”

Trust in Healthcare Lags Behind Other Industries

The problem with providing no date for content, I hope, is obvious. You get no benefit of credibility and, potentially, confuse people. That especially goes for health content.  Date: A Forgotten Fundamental for Credibility

health content needs a date

While credibility and trust matter across industries (which makes the rise of fake news that much more disturbing), trustworthiness is a particularly important dimension of health content. In our Content + Credibility Report, we found that 65% of participants say web content is “hit or miss” or “unreliable.” In this same study, we found participants ranked a government agency and niche media most consistently as the top credible sources for health content, and that trusting the source of the content was the #1 factor in enticing trustworthiness in the content itself.

Web health content is unreliable to 65%

A longstanding weakness in the health arena is the painfully slow pace of innovation; [and] credibility in health media (traditional and online) is ailing again.”— What’s the Prognosis for Health Media Credibility?

Moving the Needle on Health Content

Because we experienced success in implementing a content strategy, internal stakeholders now include us in discussions about content during the planning process.  Lance Yoder, Cerner Program Manager

Getting stakeholders on board with health content

In our Health Content Index Report, we analyzed 10 health information organizations and data collected from 120 participants and discovered that the biggest opportunity for improvement with health content is improving influence. In other words, doing a better job of driving users to try the suggestions mentioned in the content in order to help guide them to make informed health choices.

Healthcare payer and provider organizations lag behind firms in other industries in adopting digital technologies. As these organizations struggle to engage their customers and patients to improve health outcomes while reducing costs, digital technologies provide an opportunity to improve their results.   Forrester

Another discovery is the importance of utilizing data visualizations. Since health content can be daunting and confusing for usersespecially since the content can also be emotionally impactfulincluding charts, graphs, icons, word clouds, infographics, and other data visualization techniques can distill large amounts of data into a format that’s easy to consume and remember.

While the rise of the empowered consumer has been on the radar of healthcare CIOs and execs for the past several years, 2017 will see the conversations they have with their peers shift from understanding the impact to putting in the tools to engage with healthcare consumers.  Forrester

American Cancer Society’s Web Content Strategy Lead Kelley Graham supports this less talk, more action movement: “I would say that acting on the content intelligence is key. We rely on a number of data points, tools, analytics, and numbers, and it’s easy to be rendered impotent with all the data and do nothing. But just act on it. Sit down with as many—or as few—people as you need to pull the trigger.”

Graham’s colleague Melinda Baker, Director of Web Marketing, adds, “We needed [the stakeholders] to look at every piece of content and decide to keep, update, or get rid of it. We looked for content gaps by combining their content inventory with our top-down information architecture analysis. While the stakeholders gave us their full buy-in to change the content, we really had to work with them on how they changed it. They kept telling us our audience was researchers, but our findings showed there weren’t many researchers looking at the content.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Deputy Director for the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response has witnessed many positive changes with their content and content delivery. “Everything from technology to public health services has evolved, and that has impacted the way emergency preparedness and response operates … Some of the changes are clearly evident, like the innovations and updates that have been made to CDC’s Emergency Operation Center and new technological advancements in gathering data through geographic information systems and surveillance mechanisms.”

CDC experienced the power of content firsthand when a CDC zombie apocalypse post went viral and crashed their server. “By reimagining emergency 101 content in zombie terms, CDC (a federal public health agency) brought new attention to an old topic. CDC likely reached a younger audience, to boot,” offers Colleen Jones, CEO of Content Science.

Future of Health Content

The Internet of Things, virtual reality, and new technologies all point to a healthier, more transparent, and more valuable future for health content. Jeff Arnold, chairman and CEO of Sharecare, thinks that visual storytelling technologies will become an important piece of the health content pie particularly “virtual reality blended with 360-degree video–have boundless potential in healthcare and patient engagement, yet consumer-facing innovation in VR has been limited mostly to entertainment and gaming. By differentiating our platform with BioLucid’s immersive simulation of the human body, we can turn data into actionable, visual intelligence, and make a transformative impact on patient engagement, health literacy, medical education and therapy adherence.”

Cerner’s DeviceWorks VP John Gresham adds, “The real value of the IoT in health care is expanding its technology uses to provide better care for the person that ultimately drives more intelligence and predictive information back to the care provider in near-real time to make more informed decisions, improving clinical outcomes and lowering the cost of care. By unlocking data in near-real time from disparate systems, new insights and intelligence can be harnessed to more proactively care for the patient. In health care, we are taking all of that data and pushing it back into the context of clinical workflows.”

Texts may also be a breakthrough in helping patients become more involved in their health. As the study “Encouraging Physical Activity in Diabetes Patients…” concludes, “A mobile phone application with a learning algorithm can improve adherence to exercise in patients with diabetes. Because a personalized learning algorithm is automated, it can be used in large populations to improve health and glycemic control. The use of technology has catapulted our healthcare light-years ahead of where it started. In terms of research and design, what is lacking now is the inclusion of these technologies in patient interventions. Text messaging could be a step in the right direction in regards to patient involvement in their own health.”

And there’s a lot more work that can be done to make health care itself and related health content more accessible through new technology. For example, take Kaiser Permanente, who’s CEO Bernard Tyson shared in October 2016, “For the first time, last year, we had over 110 million interactions between our physicians and our members,” adding that 52% of them were done via smartphone, videoconferencing, kiosks, and other technology tools.

However, caution is necessary, especially with content as important as health content. As Colleen Jones explains, “Putting out a new approach to content on a large scale without testing it is irresponsible and risky. CDC has tested each redesign of As another example, The New York Times has created a permanent beta area called Test Drive, where users test the media giant’s new ideas before the media giant unleashes those ideas on everyone else.”

Read these case studies for more inspiration and information:

The Author

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.

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