Fake news challenges everyone’s health—especially marketers

Fake news challenges everyone’s health—especially marketers

Bad news alert: there’s a shocking amount of health information floating around online that’s dubious or downright dangerous. From fad diets to cures for cancer, baldness and beyond, articles with biased or unbalanced advice are nothing new. But this might be: according to reports from independent scientific coalitions, media analysts and medical associations, the ever increasing volume of misinformation online poses real threats to public health. As if that’s not concerning enough for health care marketers, the trend also threatens the general sense of trust people place in brands across the health spectrum.

What to do? Read on for some research context, resources to battle bad information, and ideas to inspire trust that your organization has everyone’s best interests in mind.

Assessing Truthiness: the Top Health Stories in 2018

The problem is not just “fake news,” the term for intentionally manufacturing stories for profit or political gain—or the practice of using that label as a publicity tactic to challenge credibility and confuse people. The prevalence of unsubstantiated, poorly sourced information has also been raising red flags, because this content gets seen and shared so incredibly often.

Consider this report on 2018’s most popular health stories. In the study, a network of scientists at Health Feedback and the Credibility Coalition examined 100 articles with the highest level of social media engagement. Of the top 10, they found that while three articles were “highly credible,” the majority included false or misleading information. For instance, the 8th most popular story, “World Health Organization Officially Declares Bacon as Harmful as Cigarettes,” was shared 587,000 times and deemed “not credible and potentially harmful” by the study authors.

It’s more than just sponsored content about the latest weight loss fads. The top topics in the 100 articles shared were themes of particular importance to health care marketers:

  • disease / treatment
  • food / nutrition
  • vaccination

In looking at the integrated reach of the Top 100 health articles, The Health Feedback study found that almost half the total shares of all content included “neutral and poorly-rated articles.” The conclusion: there’s a lot of work to do to curb the spread of inaccurate health news.

What’s the big deal?

Scientific understanding. Public health. Provider trust.

In an era when information technology keeps evolving at super speeds, consumer knowledge of health and media literacy hasn’t quite kept pace.

Public health officials worry that anti-vaccination views, or rather the preponderance of news about vaccination fears without a balanced or evidence-based perspective, is leading to more outbreaks of disease and illnesses, notably measles.

It’s easier for information to spread like a disease, too. That’s because lies spread faster than the truth, according to this Science study of social media behavior in 2018. “Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” and not just political news, the study’s abstract states.

Blame it on the robots? Not so fast.

“We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information,” say the Science study authors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Media Lab. “Whereas false stories inspired fear, disgust and surprise in replies, true stories inspired anticipation, sadness, joy and trust. Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”  

Social power

As marketers know, more attention-getting themes and headlines get more clicks and views. And when a colleague, friend or family member shares the story in your social feed, you know you’re more likely to give it a second look.

Social media has long been amplifying and influencing health perceptions on everything from vaccination and eating disorders to cancer cures, heart disease and drug addiction.

It’s why The AMA Journal of Ethics called for the health industry to step up and address the issue, person to person. The investigators said that “healthcare professionals can act as a valuable source for clearing up rumors both in and outside of their practices.”

Marketers clearly play a crucial role. As the people tasked with helping clinicians communicate, our first responsibility is to share the right information so that people can act as educated, empowered participants in their health—no matter where or how they receive care.

What to do

So in a world where misinformation has become a health threat, how do we help the cause, personally and professionally? People and organizations around the world have stepped up the battle against dubious digital information, and we can too.

It starts with smarter consumption and sharing—something that international team Drog creatively offers up in GetBadNews.com, a game to inspire critical thinking about media. And it continues with content creation, including the words you choose to use.

Content marketers, just like journalists, need to consider how to frame discussions in clear, meaningful ways that benefit audiences and build trust. (It turns out that exposure to the term “fake news” in itself may erode trust in media, The Poynter Institute reported.)

Google search trends show people still search out “fake news,” but “fake health news” isn’t quite on people’s search term radar. Now is the time to put more real news on their radar.

Challenge and opportunity

Consider it a brand journalism opportunity. For every popular health story that butchers objectivity, misleads readers or simply doesn’t present the scope of information that readers deserve, there’s a topic your health organization can improve on.

As health care marketers, writers and strategists, we’re often under pressure to make information that people are already inundated with, well, interesting and worth sharing. But we’re also responsible for rock-solid sourcing and even, perhaps, helping to educate readers about how to check those sources and verify claims.

Here are some tips and resources for doing just that.

Content writing tips

When covering scientific topics, the researchers at Health Feedback ask content creators to:

  • Go beyond simply describing results and research accurately, but to present findings in a balanced way with enough context to help readers understand the full picture.
  • Include comments from independent experts whenever possible.
  • Get information from reputable sources, as opposed to sources that offer little to no journalistic rigor.

Use outbound links to give readers credible references.

  • It boosts your SEO.
  • It shows a commitment to reporting accurately, which builds trust.

Fact check with these 5 sites

  • The health fraud updates from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates and outlaws new and dangerous products, call out false advertising claims.
  • HealthNewsReview.org follows up on news stories to examine the accuracy and quality of evidence they provide, challenging readers to think critically about health care assertions presented in everything from major news sites like ABC News, Reuters and the Guardian to the publicity efforts of health organizations like Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins.
  • FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, focuses on misleading political claims, including those made in the realm of science and health.
  • Snopes.com is one the internet’s oldest sources for fact-checking and contextualized media analysis.
  • WebMD has an article on spotting health scams, with excellent information for consumers and links to quack-busting government websites.

Go deeper

Final thoughts

Sharing quality, trustworthy, properly sourced content is vital to your ongoing brand health—just as it is to public health. The explosion of online misinformation is one more reminder to take a closer look at how we’re interpreting, verifying and presenting information. Because the bad stuff hurts us all.

For help creating the good stuff, get in touch with us at any time.

Are you curious?  {1 way for health care marketers to nurture better lives and workplaces}

Are you curious? {1 way for health care marketers to nurture better lives and workplaces}

Ever wonder how to live and work better? Maybe the question needs to be: “Am I wondering enough?”

Curiosity plays a crucial role in more than scientific breakthroughs and great storytelling, but in everything from relationships and personal growth to organizational success. Here’s a closer look at this “wonder drug” and how to nurture it in your everyday life.

“Curiosity has its own reason for existing. The important thing is to never stop questioning.”  —Albert Einstein, physicist

Easy peasy? Maybe not.

We’re all born with a “sacred curiosity,” as Einstein called it. Many of us work in settings that require it. Health care, for instance, relies on curiosity to diagnose, treat and foster better outcomes. Effective marketers routinely return to the well of inquiry for researching and listening, creating and collaborating, testing and assessing.

But in an age of instant informational gratification, it can be easier to prioritize quick answers without always questioning and considering alternatives. As organizations seek efficiency protocols, the laudable goal of moving things along can come at the expense of exploration—the kind that rewards lasting growth, says researcher Francesca Gino in The Business Case for Curiosity. She also found that social conventions can stymie creative collaborative potential in workplaces when there’s more value placed on “having the answers” than, say:

  • considering other perspectives
  • listening without judgement
  • using strategic inquiry to arrive at a better destination

Clearly there’s a time and place for decisive answers and fast turn-around. But in order to do it well—that is, be ready with the necessary experience and insights to “deliver”—there’s got to be a yin to that yang.

To be at your peak, as an individual or organization, takes a willingness to follow curiosity. It makes your work better. But most crucially, it makes life and relationships better. There’s plenty of data to back up that premise.


Consider learning and brain health: research has shown that intrinsic curiosity improves learning and memory for things we aren’t even interested in. Other studies have shown that being open to new experiences keeps your brain active and alert, which can be immensely helpful as we age.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It’s poking and prying with a purpose.”  —Zora Neale Hurston

Get better results

Scientists say there are two kinds of curiosity. “Diversive curiosity,” a wide-ranging interest in anything and everything new. “Epistemic curiosity,” on the other hand, is focused and discerning.  

Combining these two kinds of curiosity can be powerful and productive, says Ian Leslie, author of the book, Curious.” Leslie says the key to making curiosity more fruitful and productive is to take that non-discriminating approach and then dive in with a sustained attitude.

Think of an entrepreneur who questions why a service isn’t offered, then digs in to assess what can be done to deliver it. It’s a classic problem-solution model that anyone can use—particularly in business and design, says author Warren Berger in Three Ways Curiosity Can Change Your Life. “I found many of the most successful innovators to be people of wide-ranging curiosity who also knew when and how to narrow their focus,” Berger says.

While we’re all born with these traits, we don’t all nurture a sense of exploration and discovery as we grow older—even though our futures depend on it. But there are many practical ways we all can go about it.

Here are 6 tips to nurture curiosity:

  • Read. Different kinds of things, with varying perspectives.
  • Talk with people. Different kinds of people, with varying perspectives.
  • Brainstorm without judgement to consider angles, approaches and possibilities.
  • Ask questions: “who, what, when, where, why and how” are the standard journalistic ones. Befriend them.
  • Don’t let fear hinder curiosity. What’s the potential positive in a situation? The unknown may offer surprising rewards.
  • Listen. Sometimes it’s the silence, the experience, that teaches you best.  

For more in-depth advice, check out these links:

Create more room to grow

As hard as we try, sometimes curiosity ebbs and flows. I can tell when I’m feeling worn out and need a refresher, because my desire to wonder, dig deeper or re-examine feels dull. Which is often code for: time to take a break, breathe, work out, laugh or jam to some crazy good music.  

At Hailey Sault, we’ve long valued curiosity as an integral part of our creative craft. It informs what we do, how we do it, and even why we do it. It’s a healthy practice for any organization. Because fostering a culture that values the pursuit of questions, openly and honestly, will strengthen your ability to make real and lasting improvements—in work and life alike.   

How do you nurture curiosity? For yourself, and for those in your sphere?

What are you doing to pursue your next big idea or make life, work and health care better? We’d love to hear about it.

The Digital Health Care Experience: what your patients are demanding.

The Digital Health Care Experience: what your patients are demanding.

It’s a digital world out there and there’s no turning back. Smartphones, tablets, wearable and apps link us to the news, entertainment, shopping and our friends. They map our journeys, record our walking miles, help us meditate and answer our questions about every subject we can think of.

They’re also making it possible for us to receive personalized health care on demand. And make no mistake, more of us than ever are demanding digital health care experiences with a strong warning that we’ll go elsewhere if we aren’t getting what we need. Just look at these startling statistics.

Our national Hailey Sault research conducted in 2017 about why patients switch providers indicated that:

50% more people were shopping—or considering switching providers—than three years prior.

A recent Harris Poll found that the majority of consumers are now choosing primary care providers based on how well they use technology. 

59% of all insured patients and 70% of millennials reported they would select a primary care provider who had a patient mobile app over one that does not.

46% would choose one who offered virtual treatment options over one who doesn’t.

One more. According to a new survey from Black Book:

90% of patients no longer feel obligated to stay with health care providers that don’t deliver on overall satisfactory digital experiences.

What do your patients want from their digital health care experience?

General Apps

At minimum they want apps that help them search for a doctor or specialist, access family health records, make or change an appointment, access test results, pay bills and fill prescriptions.

Virtual Visits

As they shop for convenient, affordable health care and as insurance companies begin to foot the bill, patients would love to avoid trips to the doctor’s office for non-emergent care. Some health systems are now using virtual visits for everything from e-prescribing to pre-surgical consults, chronic disease management check-ins and more.

Wearables and portable tracking devices

Patients concerned with prevention would like to exchange health data from wearable devices with their physician in an effort to track their health status and progress, including tracking their blood pressure, weight and blood glucose.

Customized Apps

Patients would also like apps from their provider that can:

  • track their medication
  • help with their mental health
  • support their rehabilitation with follow-up plans, rehab journals and interactive physical therapy sessions
  • help them cope with conditions like heart disease, cancer, asthma and diabetes

The digital experience must also be a human experience.

While patients are demanding digital experiences from their health care providers, Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Adrienne Boissy warns in an article in NEJM Catalyst, that health systems must be careful not to think of their patients as iPatients.

“The digital experience will be most powerful when it intentionally enhances the human(e) experience: the uniquely profound experience of feeling connected, seen, known and valued. The most humane experiences happen when we meet patients where they are by designing the types of touch points they want and need. Of course, there will be places where technology cannot go. Yet, the virtual or digital touch could nonetheless be warm and empathic, if we design it to be so.”

As patients take control of their health they are also demanding their care become centered around their life and schedule as opposed to being at the convenience of their provider or health system. This is the time when health systems must become creative in bringing together services related to diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention for their patients.

9 Questions that drive next level health care marketing plans

Marketers: Protect the Trust Between Physicians and Patients

Marketers: Protect the Trust Between Physicians and Patients

“They” say that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything—and to me that rings true. My health is my life. Or, I should say my health makes the quality of my life possible. And, when it comes to the health issues that really count, like preventing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia—which all run in my family—I trust one person’s authority: my doctor.

Working in the health care marketing industry I read an astounding number of articles and studies about every chronic disease prevention approach out there today, so I consider myself ultra-informed. I also talk to my friends and family about health and prevention. But, it’s my discussions with my doctor about what I’ve read, combined with what she knows, that ultimately helps me decide how to approach my health.

And I’m not alone when it comes to trust. In our latest research Why Patients Switch 2017, we interviewed 1,233 health care consumers in six different markets around the country about their relationship with their health care provider. 

63 percent of our survey participants said that their primary care physician was their most used, trusted and important source of health information.

As we interviewed our participants, we wanted to know how a doctor could gain their trust. So we asked, “What should a doctor say or how should they act to be trustworthy?” People told us:

  • clearly answer my questions
  • listen to my needs and input when considering health care options
  • confidently explain options, procedures and diagnoses
  • be able to explain my medical condition and be empathic at the same time
  • explain things in a way that is clear and easy to understand
  • understand my medical history better
  • be better at follow-up communication after tests or procedures
  • use a tone that is personable, caring and understanding

Who’s going to solve the problem of the rising cost of health care?

Who’s going to solve the problem of the rising cost of health care?

There are so many working parts to the problem of the rising cost of health care that it seems almost impossible to solve. At this point, our politicians are locked in a health care battle and some of the solutions they’ve proposed seem untenable and frankly scary to me.

I’m not the only one thinking about the cost of health care. We recently surveyed 1,100 people we identified as the person who made the decisions about health care in their household. Across the board our respondents voiced their concerns telling us that:

Health care decision makers across the U.S. believe health care is becoming less affordable, and less accessible. More importantly, they feel health care is the least transparent financial decision they’ll ever make.

Corporate problem solvers

It’s been with great interest that I’ve been reading about corporations willing to take the lead in finding solutions. Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire CEOs recently announced their plan to take on the challenges of providing access to affordable, quality health care to their employees—with the intention of delivering advances in health care for everyone else as well. Some speculate that in-house care may be the first direction these big corporations go. 

Apple is jumping in with a solution too. The company just announced it will launch a network of medical clinics for its employees and their families. 

Our newest client, CareATC is another company leading the way working with companies to provide onsite and near-site primary care clinics for employees and families. The company is driven by a vision to reduce this country’s health care costs by 50 percent. Its model includes providing a shorter path to care via near-site clinics, along with an employee assessment and tracking that promotes health and helps prevent disease.

An old health care cost solution becomes new again

I poked around the web to find out more about the history of onsite health care. Come to find out having health care readily available to employees in the workplace is an idea that was commonplace as early as the late 1800s. There were many hazards in working in America’s booming railroad and mining industries, so companies opened onsite clinics to better manage workplace injuries.

The practice of having a “company doctor” wasn’t popular with the workforce, though, because the care was mandated by the company and the cost was deducted directly from an employee’s pay.

The new and improved onsite/near-site health clinic

Today’s onsite, or near-site, health clinics offer employees the ability to either Skype with a physician in a room onsite or visit an in-house or near-site facility that can include acute care, acupuncture and physical therapy. Employees usually pay a minimal co-pay for the visit or nothing at all.

Doing more than keeping people healthy

Many of these clinics aren’t just treating employees when they become sick. They’re also helping them control chronic conditions and stay healthy through full health and wellness programs that can include exercise and nutrition programs, smoking cessation programs and more.

How onsite clinics save money

Unlike the company clinic of the past, these new onsite/near-site clinics aren’t set up to be company money-makers, although the investment is paying for itself.

A study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that a well-designed, convenient health program can have a return on investment of $2–$3 per dollar spent over a two- to nine-year timeframe.  

Who’s going to solve the problem of the rising cost of health care?

Of course, not everyone works for a corporation large enough to make the initial investment in an onsite or near-site clinic. But, creative thinking that includes solutions like onsite health and wellness is a start.

Thank you Amazon, JPMorgan, Berkshire, Apple and more for putting the company on the line, for taking on the problem of health care access and cost. Thanks for frightening a few insurance companies and politicians. I’m looking forward to seeing what transpires beyond the great idea of onsite/near-site clinics.

Does Walgreens love me more than my doctor?

Does Walgreens love me more than my doctor?

Every month or so, I receive an email jam-packed with tips and proactive ideas to help create a healthier me. You would think this information-filled email came from my health care provider, but it doesn’t—it comes from my pharmacy—Walgreens.

A matter of trust

Being in the health care marketing and communication business, I realize Walgreens sends me these regular emails because it ultimately wants me to buy a product at my local store. But what this consistent contact is doing is creating a relationship of trust between the chain store and me.

When it comes to my health, wouldn’t I naturally trust my health care provider more than a retail chain?

You would think so. But right now, I have more of an affinity for Walgreens. Yeah, Walgreens definitely cares more about me because they engage with me more. Every time I get one of those emails, I get a feeling that my best interests are being looked after by a retail giant. Hmm, something is wrong here.

Why wouldn’t my provider want to be the trusted leader in helping me be healthier?

We recently did research on why patients switch providers. One of the questions we asked was: How interested are you in having your local health care provider help you be healthier every day?

40% of the people we surveyed told us they wanted their local health care provider to help them be healthier.

We also asked which sources people trusted most for their everyday health and fitness information and:

73% of respondents said given the choice, their local provider was their most trusted source for daily health and fitness information.

Why trust is so important

There is nothing more sacred than the trust we place in those who provide us with physical and mental health services. David A. Shore, founder of the Trust Initiative of Harvard School of Public Health and author of The Trust Prescription for Healthcare, Building Your Reputation with Consumers, argues that “having a reputation as a trusted provider is good medicine and good business.”

A recent study in PLoS One titled Trust in the health care professional and health outcomes: A meta-analysis, revealed that “from a clinical perspective, patients reported more beneficial health behaviors, fewer symptoms, higher quality of life, and to be more satisfied with treatment when they had higher trust in their health care professional.”

How are you communicating with the people you want to trust you?

Maybe you have an e-newsletter. What is it filled with? Is it serving the needs of the people you are communicating with or is it selling service lines? Are the stories you’re telling in your newsletter compelling or are they a sales tool?

Even though I know that Walgreens wants me to shop at my nearest store, the information I receive in each e-newsletter is not overtly self-serving. It is useful and timely. That’s what makes me feel like the store cares about me. It’s also what makes me want to reciprocate by choosing Walgreens when I need a prescription filled or when I need to stop for a card or shampoo on my way home from work.

Showing you care and gaining health care e-newsletter subscribers

Do you get e-newsletters? Which blogs do you read regularly? (We’re hoping you say this one.) What do you enjoy about the newsletters and blogs that come to your inbox?

  • The first thing that probably grabs your attention is the subject line. It spoke to you at the right moment and you opened the email.
  • Next, the design was crisp, easy to read, and there may have been a picture or two.
  • You started reading and the content was good. It kept you interested and you may have passed a tip or two on to a friend, family member or co-worker.

That’s the kind of e-newsletter you should be producing—the kind that, like Walgreens, reminds the people in your market that you are benevolent and a trusted resource they can turn to for their physical and mental well-being.

So, let’s start a relationship

Our research shows that people want their health care provider to help them become healthier and that their provider is their most trusted source for the health and fitness information they are seeking. You want to be the health care provider in your market that people trust the most with their care. So, let’s get a blog or an e-newsletter in their inbox that shows them that you care about them more than Walgreens does.