A healthy nudge: How conversational AI can take the strain off healthcare
There is no denying the fact that people are living longer – so much so, that centenarians are actually the fastest growing age group in the UK. On the surface, this is great news and a testament to advances in medical science. Yet in a time of resource strain and budget cuts within the NHS, this increase in life expectancy – and resulting growth in the number of people who may be living in ill health - is putting added pressure on our healthcare system.
In order to satisfy this rising demand for high quality and targeted healthcare, it’s important to make sure that the population at large understands and, more importantly, adheres to their wellbeing and healthcare plans. However, in the UK there just aren’t enough healthcare professionals to ensure people get help to truly stay on top of this. Therefore, we should be looking at technology, and in particular, conversational artificial intelligence (AI), to help engage people seeking to achieve a healthier lifestyle or follow their care plans, in order to reduce the pressure on the system and improve health outcomes.
Digitising the nudge theory
Healthcare professionals can leverage the ‘nudge theory’, to help people stick to their care plan and guide them towards making better decisions regarding their health, by delegating some of the ‘nudging’ to a conversational AI-powered assistant. The nudge theory, which was made famous by Nobel Laureates Richard Thaler and Daniel Kahneman, found that subtly influencing people to change their behaviours was a far more effective means of motivation than actually telling them to do so, and that frequent communications and engagement leads to better results.
Nudging people to take better care of themselves at home, versus hands-on care for avoidable complications in hospitals or care facilities, greatly reduces the number of ‘bed-blockers’, which add an unnecessary and costly strain to the healthcare system and leads to poorer health experience and outcomes for patients.
While undoubtedly, regular check-ins from human care providers are needed, virtual assistants can provide the always-on support and access to personalised information that allows many patients to self-care from home under the remote supervision of a doctor or caregiver. For example, they can assist a patient in ordering prescriptions, remind them how to use healthcare devices they use routinely such as an inhaler, as well as giving them proactive reminders to take their medication. Virtual assistants can help healthcare engagement extend beyond the few hours of consultations that even chronic patients typically receive over a year, by giving such patients timely support, information and reminders.
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Redefining at-home care
Most health systems are increasingly seeking to shift care from the hospital to the home, as it provides a better experience and in many circumstances is both safe and more effective to do so. By being able to provide support, advice and information without the need for a healthcare professional, AI can help patients better manage their conditions and general health from the comfort of their own homes. Although a conversational AI should by no means replace the care given by a doctor or nurse, virtual assistants have the potential to redefine how at-home care is conducted, which would significantly reduce the pressure on our healthcare system.
With conversational assistants giving patients more control over their healthcare needs such as accessing information about their condition and care, re-ordering their own prescriptions, or rescheduling tests and appointments, experienced caregivers and nurses can be freed up from routine interactions. When staff are liberated from the mundane aspects of their jobs, their roles can evolve to focus on their uniquely human skills such as problem solving, listening and interpersonal communication — all of which are of utmost importance in caregiving.
This increased engagement can benefit workers by making their work more rewarding and fulfilling. In another way, it can also help tackle the healthcare system’s deepening staffing crisis, which earlier this year it was revealed to be at ‘breaking point’ with one in ten nurses leaving the NHS each year. By alleviating some of the workload and giving healthcare professionals more time to focus on the most important part of their job – actually caring for their patients - AI-powered conversational assistants could also help reduce the growing healthcare staff churn within the NHS.
Time for change
If the current strains on the NHS are to continue, we simply won’t have the doctors or nurses to provide the care that this country needs. Despite the government pledging an additional £20.5bn for the NHS as part of this year’s Autumn Budget, this doesn’t account for the deficit already in the healthcare system, and the fact that according to the WHO, the world will be short of 12.9 million health-care workers by 2035.
Therefore, we need to start taking advantage of advances in technology, notably in the form of conversational assistants, to free up hospital resources and reduce the mounting pressure on the NHS. There is no doubt that the adoption of AI in the healthcare industry will augment the experience, quality, access and efficiency of the system. Not only will it empower patients, helping them stick to their treatment plans so they can better self-manage their conditions, but crucially it will also support so many overworked and demoralised healthcare professionals by relieving them from the high volume of administrative tasks, so they can focus on delivering quality care.
Conversational assistants hold the key to rescuing the NHS from its continued plight of staff shortages, underfunding and rising hospital admissions, but the government and the NHS must embrace these new technologies for them to really have an impact.
How can the healthcare industry build trust with consumers?
One of the many ways the pandemic has impacted society is that it has firmly cast the healthcare industry in the public spotlight. From producing ventilators and PPE to developing life-saving vaccines, consumers have looked to pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to keep us safe and find a way out of the Covid-19 crisis.
As a result, healthcare companies have an opportunity to build upon this and utilise their marketing to drive greater engagement and trust with consumers. When it comes to effective marketing, it’s vital to remember the important role which visuals play. Consumers increasingly engage with brands through the visual communications and storytelling they absorb while online or browsing through media channels. These visual communications can have a huge impact not only on consumer purchasing decisions but also the relationship between brands and customers.
At Getty Images, we work with healthcare companies throughout Europe to advise them on their visual content. This study forms part of the research for our insight platform Visual GPS, which looks at the key factors affecting consumer decision making and how that impacts their visual choices.
In partnership with YouGov, we surveyed 10,000 consumers globally and have been tracking this consumer sentiment for the past two years. This latest deep-dive into the healthcare industry is part of our wider on-going research, and aims to better understand how consumers in different regions are interacting with the healthcare sector and what motivates their visual preferences.
Our research revealed that many companies are not using visuals as effectively as they could. In the UK, for instance, the vast majority of consumers do not feel represented by the visual communications which businesses are producing – only 7% of British respondents to our global Visual GPS survey say they felt represented. That is even lower than the global average of 14%.
This latest deep dive into the healthcare industry has uncovered some important insights that can help us better understand how consumers in different regions are interacting with the healthcare sector.
Mental health should be centre stage
A key finding shows that mental health remains a highly relevant issue for consumers. Over nine in ten British consumers think it is important to talk about mental health and put it on an equal footing with physical and emotional health. Not surprisingly, 55% of British consumers believe that more people are being diagnosed with depression due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of mental health across Europe. Health and pharmaceutical companies should acknowledge this in their visual communications but do so in an empathetic and compassionate way. Only five years ago, visuals around mental health often depicted people alone, isolated and expressing feelings of shame, whereas now we are seeing a more empathetic and supportive approach to visualising mental health - with an increasing number of positive visuals showing support groups, or individuals proactively seeking and finding support.
Visual communications that show support for mental well-being in a meaningful way will resonate deeply with consumers.
A more holistic approach
Another key finding is that consumers want to focus more on holistic health. Our survey found that the majority of UK consumers place an almost equal importance on emotional, physical and mental health, and almost three quarters (73%) placed the health and well-being of family as a top priority.
It’s important that healthcare companies reflect this. Our research paired with ongoing image testing revealed that consumers want to see visuals that humanise healthcare, so companies should consider visualising inclusive care across intersecting factors such as age, ethnicity and gender. Brands can help establish trust with their customers by highlighting a collaborative relationship between medical professional and patient, as well as ensuring that their visual choices feel genuine.
Technology and innovation in healthcare are gaining traction
Thirdly, eHealth and purposeful innovation was another key finding. Consumers want innovation that will meaningfully support their care. Particularly in Europe, the older generation will pay more for brands that use technology to provide advice and recommendations, while Gen Z & Millennials are willing to pay for self-service capabilities. It’s important therefore for healthcare companies to incorporate purposeful innovation in their visual communication and demonstrate consumers at the centre of accessible eHealth.
Given these insights, what visual content do consumers expect to see from pharmaceutical brands? Our research highlighted three key themes.
- Consumers want to see how healthcare companies fit into people’s lives. Accessible health services are a key factor here. Decision makers should build trust by showing consumers at the centre of a holistic healthcare ecosystem.
- Consumers want to see the emotional rewards others get from using a healthcare company. This can be achieved by building brand loyalty through empathetic and inclusive visual storytelling.
- Finally, consumers want to see people who are similar to them and their lives. British consumers want to see people that look like them and reflect their lived experiences in advertising and brand communication. Decision-makers should ensure that their visual communication is inclusive and authentic and represents the diverse population of the market in which they’re operating.
Ultimately, the key to successful visual storytelling for pharma and healthcare businesses is to ensure that they understand what matters to their audience while establishing trust of care. An important element of this is authentically representing the full spectrum of the population. That means representing all ethnicities, ages, abilities, body shapes, sexuality, religion and genders, to ensure patients of all backgrounds feel included and represented.
Healthcare brands should bear in mind that, as a result of the pandemic’s impact on healthcare systems around the world, consumers may be feeling anxious about whether they will be able to access care if they need it. The healthcare industry has an opportunity to reassure customers and build greater engagement and trust by showing them that they matter through inclusive visuals that represents them authentically at the heart of brand storytelling.