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The Creative Destruction of Digital Health

VP Strategy

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Today’s superconvergence of mobile, social, biometrics, genomics, and AI has proven the utility and driven the ubiquity of digital health—catapulting the specialty from emerging tech to the strategic core of how healthcare is practiced. Let’s discuss the implications for marketers, and share best practices for success…

The digital revolution has not only created better healthcare, but transformed the practice of medicine itself. Along the way patients and professionals have become empowered and even fickle consumers, demanding from the health system the same immediacy, personalization, and convenience of digital services such as Amazon, Uber, and Netflix.

By 2017 we were supposed to have flying cars and bases on the Moon; instead we now carry powerful computers in our pockets capable of instantaneously and globally sending and receiving text, images, video, and biometric data—a tech disruption far more surprising and profound than ever predicted, with implications just beginning to be understood.

The societal impact has been so seismic that print, land line telephones, and broadcast media seem restrictively medieval. Hard to imagine the Web is less than thirty years old, and the personal computer but a decade or so before that; and astonishing to think our interactivity was once limited to turning pages, calling a physical location, and changing channels.


Fan Mail to Presidential Tweets

A whacky throwback illustrates life before digital: In the 1970s Don Novello, a comic later known as Father Guido Sarducci on the American hit Saturday Night Live, wrote a series of absurd letters to corporate, entertainment, political figures under the pen name “Lazlo Thoth.” In the years before Twitter, these were about as close as one could get to celebrity…




Written on a manual typewriter, folded within a sealed envelope, and snail mailed to the headquarters of McDonald’s, Graceland, or the White House, these ridiculous missives (and their often equally preposterous yet well-intentioned responses) were hysterical for the very reason that communication was then so slow, tedious, and typically unsuccessful.

Imagine “customer service” when most channels of communication were one-way, and hopelessly fragmented and siloed. Not too long before that, more doctors smoked camels than any other cigarette—and patients were at the mercy of a healthcare system that had all the data, made all the decisions, and commanded rather than listened.

Fast forward to 2000 and the comedian Sasha Baron Cohen created the TV version of this satirical approach with his character Ali G., a fake rapper who mock-interviewed big name folks Lazlo would have written, including Noam Chomsky, Newt Gingrich, and Donald J. Trump. Since then the gig is up—want to write The President? Just tweet him back.

The point here is that digital has transformed passive audiences into active participants. By enabling and encouraging the mass availability and affordability of two-way, real time, geolocated data transfer, digital has creatively destroyed nearly every vertical from media to manufacturing to medicine—and fundamentally changed how marketers communicate.


Superconvergence to Reboot

Behold the rise of the eConsumer—and their healthcare analogs the ePatient and Digital Doctor. That “e” is for electronic, but also equipped, enabled, empowered, and expert. With virtually limitless information and community only the tap of an app away, the traditionally paternalistic healthcare system finally bows before millions of actively engaged stakeholders.

Digital has proven both driver and catalyst, catapulting healthcare along an interwoven trajectory that has rebooted medicine and health. Eric Topol’s seminal Creative Destruction of Medicine captures the essence of this “propitious convergence” of broad bandwidth, miniaturized electronics, powerful biosensors, and evolving user experiences:




From wireless phones to personal computers, the Internet to social media, mobile to wearables, the progressive digital empowerment of users has evolved their behaviors and expectations—which in turn have encouraged and facilitated even more emerging tech, driving a superconvergence dynamically precipitating a new era in healthcare.

What’s cool is how computer code is analogous to the base pairs of DNA, the 0s and 1s of binary used to store data like the nucleosides A, C, G, and T. The digitization of health and the cracking of genomics are the optimal way to diagnose, manage, predict, and prevent disease—the quantified self inexorably leading toward quantified health and wellness.

The hero behind all this is “digital health,” a specialty within a specialty that began as an experimental curiosity and has since become a sub-industry unto itself. With over $1B of investment in Q1 2017 alone, Rock Health reveals continued interest in multiple categories from care coordination to telemedicine, big data to wearables and biosensing:




Despite the apparent enthusiasm and central role in the evolution of healthcare, digital health still struggles with sluggish year-to-year growth. “Incubators” churn out thousands of startups, most of which fail. Data security and personal privacy challenges continue to impede progress. While for marketers the reach, engagement, and ROI remain daunting.

Challenges continue to span the gamut, plaguing investors to thought leaders to developers. On the tech side inter-operability frustrates the systemic need for integration; on the communication side end-user adoption remains slow and vexing; while clinical accuracy and the often ambiguous cross-over point to regulated devices continue to impede progress.

The digital health version of the Gartner “Hype Cycle” is illuminating and frustrating, the ride from inflated expectations through disillusionment, enlightenment, and rarely productivity an unforgiving, Darwinian struggle. Akin to healing mhealth, a way to ensure relevance, engagement, and safety is by understanding goals—and the consumer.


hype cycle


Arguably the challenge is one shared by Kurt Vonnegut’s character Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse-Five: Digital health has become “unstuck in time”: Seen as tactic rather than core strategy, digital health may need its own reboot—having creatively destroyed medicine, the healthcare system should arguably do digital health the same favor.


Digital Tactic to Brand Strategy

The key to making digital health impactful and timely is by shifting focus back to where it belongs: On the end-user. No longer the passive recipient of static content, as we’ve seen today’s digital audiences actively engage with data, resources, and each other through various devices throughout the course of their day. They expect an experience that’s immediate, relevant, and personal.

Ensuring these criteria are met is foremost an exercise in healthcare brand strategy. If behavioral change is the goal then the mind of the user is more important than the features of the tool or resource. Regardless of the tech, the project must become a flattering reflection of the patients, caregivers, physicians, or other health system stakeholders you serve.

Every brand should have a coherent and compelling promise and personality, through which a digital health initiative expresses its power. Whether you’re creating a disease education app, Alexa Skill, telemedicine channel, customer service chatbot, wearable monitor, virtual reality game or similar, you need to first understand your end-users and how your brand experience fits within their busy digital days.

Before any digital health project can be successfully created, it must be systematically destroyed. Ask: What brand promise does it fulfill? How will it fit within end-users’ lives? How can it connect to multiple touch points throughout the health system and their personal journey? How will their engagement be measured, the cumulative experience optimized?


Traditional Agency to Commercialization Partner

Thriving within today’s superconvergence demands the “triangulation of healthcare,” another way of saying the prerequisite for success is tripartite expertise in science, communications, and technology. Without grounding in all three the result of any singular effort is either incorrect, incomprehensible, or ineffective—truer now than ever before.

Audiences have come a long way since writing letters and changing channels—and clients demand brand experiences that reach, engage, and convince these savvy, distracted, and active targets on their own terms. The superconvergence precipitated the creative destruction of medicine—and we now need an equally integrated and intentional approach to digital health so its amazing promise and potential can be fulfilled.

At Klick Health we understand the many dependencies, and have the full service capabilities necessary to succeed in today’s chaotic market: From strategy to creative, content to media, data to technology, we apply our insights and expertise to help your brand get faster to market, faster to learn, and faster to adapt. Let’s get started!

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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