New entrants to the health care industry are changing the healthcare market, what could that mean for communication professionals in the healthcare industry?

According to a recent report by the global consulting firm PwC – “Health Care’s New Entrants: who will be healthcare’s Amazon.com?” -, the centre of gravity of the US healthcare market is shifting towards customers. The survey, carried out by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI), shows that consumers are willing to swap traditional care for more affordable and convenient alternatives.

New entrants to the US healthcare market from the retail, technology, telecommunications, consumer products and automotive industries are eager to fill this expanding gap. According to HRI, 24 of 2013’s Fortune 50 companies are healthcare new entrants. “Of those, seven are retailers; eight are technology and telecommunications companies. Two are automakers, including Ford Motor Co., which is developing services for chronic condition management while driving.”

With products ranging from smartphone apps and accessories for health data monitoring and diagnosis to online screening and prescription services based on computer algorithms, new entrants are paving the way towards a new health economy, centred around the consumer, transparency, convenience and prevention. The report foresees that “within a decade, the health business will look and feel like other consumer-oriented, technology-enabled industries.”

Furthermore, there are new players reshaping and expanding the $267 billion US fitness and wellness industry. Most of us are already using some of the new apps and devices to track our running pace and mileage, to keep us on a diet, etc. and there are countless opportunities to create new market segments.

The HRI study was restricted to the US economy, but I believe that these findings will be replicated in most developed countries in the short term and in most developing countries in the medium to long term.

What does this mean and how does it affect linguists, communicators, medical writers, medical translators, medical journalists and other communication professionals in the healthcare industry?

Firstly, if the centre of gravity is shifting, undoubtedly communications will have to adapt as well. If more new and consolidated healthcare companies start tailoring their products to the end consumer, the language that we use will inevitably need to change to address this particular audience. The traditional medical terminology and jargon used in our current communications will need to become accessible to the average consumer, both to make products more appealing, and to prevent misuse and health risks. This means that communicators in this industry will no longer be able to rely solely on their medical lexicon and knowledge of our traditional audiences, e.g. physicians, researchers, healthcare professionals in general, etc.

If instead of going to the hospital for a test or a medication, patients begin using home kits, the instructions accompanying these home kits will need to play a role currently played by a healthcare professional, which is to explain in detail how to use the kit, potential  risks, safety procedures, etc. This means that such instructions will need to be a lot more thorough and comprehensible, not just to prevent safety risks, but also to safeguard the manufacturer.

Several of the current advances in this new scenario will involve mobile phone and Internet technologies, which means that the best medical communicators will be those who are knowledgeable about both medical terminology and technology. We can no longer focus all of our learning efforts on better understanding the medical industry and medicine-related topics; we will need to become users, consumers of and experts in technology. We will need to be able to quickly understand what a new technology product can do, how it benefits the patient and readily convey this to multiple audiences that will include highly knowledgeable, but not necessarily tech-savvy physicians, knowledgeable and tech-savvy researchers, potentially tech-savvy, layman consumers, etc.

The end consumer is not the only “new player” in this market. There are also new entrants, which are companies currently not necessarily operating in the healthcare industry that are trying to grab a share of this highly lucrative market. This means new opportunities for medical communicators, because they will need experienced communicators who are used to positioning products and services in the healthcare industry, but also means that we will need to be flexible and learn to communicate with and to these new entrants.

In short, this market shift is a good opportunity for us to recycle and adapt. It is also a great opportunity for us to seek new customers and expand our reach, such as to the wellness and fitness industry and to new entrants.

We also have an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with these new technologies first-hand and put ourselves, as consumers, at the centre of the message we want to communicate. A consumer-centred market will allow us to be the bridge between the hard, complex medical terminology and the general population. The best communicators in this context will be those who are capable of translating the medicine and adequately conveying the information to all players in the medical industry, including, perhaps for the first time in scale, the general population.

Are you preparing for the challenge? Please let me know how in the comments!

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