Wellness, Healthcare and Talking Things. Specifically, the Internet of Things

Mike McGrail, August 2015

If you want to be in the next healthcare marketing hot spot, go to the intersection of healthcare and wellness and then look up the road for the approaching Internet of Things. Where they come together is where the action is going to be.

That’s an odd stew of factors – two health-related concepts and the next big thing in high tech – coming together to create opportunities for healthcare marketing professionals. But when you look at them in the larger context of what’s relevant to consumers, they’re not the odd pairing they appear to be. When healthcare and wellness come together in the Internet of Things, they become an ongoing conversation that enables marketers to engage consumers on a deeper level than conventional marketing channels can reach.

The IoT is just what the name implies: things, i.e. devices and sensors, communicating to each other without human intervention. IoT applications can automatically monitor key healthcare metrics around the clock and feed a steady stream of intelligence to consumers. They can use the information to manage their conditions and modify their behaviors to head off problems before they occur.

Healthcare experts expect it to be transformative in wellness.

“Promoting wellness in a healthy but aging population provides a great challenge, but (self-managed care) could reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases,” Paul J. McCullagh and Juan Carlos Augusto wrote in the European healthcare technology journal CEPIS UpGrade. “The Internet of Things can overcome many of these challenges.”

In a 2014 Deloitte report, Pete Celano, director of consumer health initiatives in the Innovation Group at MedStar Health, went ever further, saying the IoT could boot the current healthcare delivery model right out the door.

“Remote health monitoring begins to disrupt the traditional treatment environment and the incident-based model. The combination of wearables and other intelligent equipment that allows an individual to capture, track, analyze and share data about themselves, will open up even more disruptive potential: the individual, rather than the health care provider, will own the data about her body,” he said. “Health and wellness providers will use the data to offer more personalized treatment or course of action based on the individual’s context and responses to previous measures. Individuals will connect with a diverse ecosystem of wellness providers who can help them get more value and insight out of their data to improve wellness and better use traditional health care providers when they are not well.

For a window on where marketing and public relations fit into the picture, take Celano’s concept into the world of a thirty-something middle-aged man battling obesity. In the IoT world, sensors in his shoes send data over the Internet to a wellness application. The application processes the data and sends the man a notice that he hasn’t walked as much as he planned that day.

Using the bar codes on his lunch items, which he photographed with his smart phone, the application also tells him that he ate 170 more calories at lunch than he intended, which means more exercise. It tells him that two walking groups he’s affiliated with are going walking that night. He can sign up for the walk through his smart phone or his desktop computer.

Staying on the IoT-based wellness regime helps keep the man’s weight problem from progressing to Type 2 diabetes. However, his wellness app does detect an upward trend in his blood pressure through a sensor in his watch. The app puts a note in his medical file and sends his doctor an alert for the man’s next checkup. The app refers the consumer to a list of blood pressure control medications that have been recommended by other members of his wellness community, complete with first-hand accounts of their experience with the medication

IoT-based wellness conversations like these encompass three elements of relevance: community, values and thought. The IoT wellness app joins consumers into a community of people with similar needs who value independence and  share knowledge and experience. They are making knowledgeable wellness decisions and using the intelligence from the app to weigh alternatives and make informed decisions.

Spotted the marketing opportunities yet? Hints: How does raw wellness data get on the Internet? What turns the data into intelligence? How do medications make it onto the wellness community’s preferred list? Product, services, vendors and a market, all in one.

Marketers can be in the thick of these conversations. They can help healthcare and wellness companies forge mutually beneficial partnerships. They can counsel clients on content and viral marketing campaigns to created grassroots awareness that permeates through online wellness groups. They can help with messaging that places products and services in the broader context of wellness, moving the conversation to a more positive context that reaches consumers on meaningful levels and forces durable, long-term relationships.