Whether they are following breaking news about a new crisis such as the coronavirus or looking for in-depth information after getting a cancer diagnosis, the public now relies heavily on the internet for health content. Health content has to fulfill a range of needs and serve all types of users since health affects every single person every single day. Health content must rise to the immense challenge of being honest, credible, and unbiased by external influences, as well as be written in an approachable way with superb navigation to get people to the content they need the moment they need it.  

User Behavior and Expectations Surrounding Health Content

Globally, the use of online health content and digital devices such as smartwatches is increasing. From diet and nutrition to mental health, people are turning to the web to get their health information.

Most Americans go online for health information. 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, Content Science

About 80% of Americans have looked up health content online

Consumers want digital healthcare choices. About 70% of consumers prefer digital healthcare solutions. McKinsey 2017 Consumer Health Insights Survey  

Many consumers track health digitally. Between a third and half of consumers in the countries surveyed use digital tools to measure their fitness and health, and between 20% and 35% of consumers use at-home monitoring devices. Deloitte 2019 Global Health Care Consumer Survey 

Some Americans use wearables for health. About 1 in 5 U.S. adults (21%) say they regularly wear a smartwatch or wearable fitness tracker. Pew Research

Diet and nutrition most popular for online health information seekers. Among survey participants who searched for health information online, the top 4 search topics were diet/nutrition, exercises, medicines, and quick remedies. — Electronic Health Behaviors Among U.S. Adults With Chronic Disease: Cross-Sectional Survey, Journal of Medical Internet Research 

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

Youth go online for mental health help. Young people are most likely to search online for information about mental well-being (59%), including stress (44%), anxiety (42%), and depression (39%). They also look for information about birth control (30%), pregnancy (28%), and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (26%). Digital Health Practices, Social Media Use, and Mental Well-Being Among Teens and Young Adults in the U.S., A National Survey Sponsored by Hopelab and Well Being Trust

State of Health Content and Current Challenges 

In the era of online disinformation, creating trustworthy, accurate health content for the internet is vital. But doing so remains a challenge. 

Fake health news has infiltrated social media. “Of the 20 most-shared articles on Facebook in 2016 with the word “cancer” in the headline, more than half report claims discredited by doctors and health authorities or – in the case of the year’s top story – directly by the source cited in the article.” — Independent

Globally, women trust healthcare far less than men. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found “an alarming and widening gap in trust [in healthcare] between and among key stakeholders, despite an overall increase in trust in the industry globally.” The study showed that women are significantly less likely than men to trust in healthcare and revealed “the largest global gap ever measured in trust in healthcare between the informed public and mass population.” The report stated that “taken all together, this year’s data shows that trust in healthcare is fragile despite modest global gains.” — 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

Health content must be credible. 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. Content Science’s Content + Credibility Report found that 65% of participants say web content is “hit or miss” or “unreliable.” In this same study, participants ranked a government agency and niche media most consistently as the top credible sources for health content and said that trusting the source of the content was the #1 factor in enticing trustworthiness in the content itself. Content + Credibility Report, Content Science

Web health content is unreliable to 65%


Moving the Needle on Health Content

While healthcare organizations and health news outlets alike continue to face health content challenges, there are many opportunities for them to do better—from taking full advantage of what digital has to offer to trying new techniques and strategies to reach key audiences.

Improve influence to improve health content. Content Science’s Health Content Index Report 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. — Health Content Index Report, Content Science


Getting stakeholders on board with health content


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

Data visualizations can be a game-changer. 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. — Health Content Index Report, Content Science


health content needs a date

Video ads moved the needle on the opioid issue. “The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)…found that knowledge of the risks of prescription opioids was surprisingly low. To bridge this knowledge gap, the NCIPC worked with communications services contractor ICF to do something it had never done before in the opioid space: create a made-for-digital awareness campaign, with an emphasis on YouTube.” After watching YouTube ads about opioid addiction, viewers aged 25 to 34 were 24% more likely to be aware that prescription opioids can be dangerous. And, the ads spurred people to take action and learn more about the issue. Think with Google

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

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. 

Visual storytelling will be increasingly important 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 health care 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.” — Sharecare Chairman and CEO

More real-time data will improve health content, and ultimately patient care. Cerner’s Senior Vice President of Health Networks John Gresham has stated that 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.” — Cerner

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 health care 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.” — Encouraging Physical Activity in Diabetes Patients

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, whose CEO Bernard Tyson shared in October 2016, that “for the first time, last year, we had over 110 million interactions between our physicians and our members.” He added that 52% of those interactions were via smartphone, videoconferencing, kiosks, and other technology tools.

However, caution is necessary, especially with content as crucial 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.” Jones says to follow the CDC’s lead on this front—the CDC has tested each redesign of CDC.gov. 

The Author

Content Science partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

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