Tech Versus the Flu: How Companies Can Put the Patient First

Every year as fall turns into winter, headlines and predictions about flu season start to roll in. Each new flu season brings different strains and new challenges, making prevention very difficult. And according to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few weeks ago, a second viral wave has started, making this year’s flu season the longest in a decade. For health and health tech brands, this exacerbates an already tricky set of opportunities and problems: how to communicate around a miserable annual event in a way that feels responsible, patient-centric and fresh.


Flu Tech on the Market Today

Because of its unfortunate annual occurrence, the flu has created a major market for new vaccines for each new strain, and countless products to help alleviate symptoms. In fact, flu vaccines make pharma companies three billion dollars each year. The market only grows when you consider all the other associated technology and consumer-focused products that brands have developed.

So, what’s available on the flu market today? The rise of telemedicine has been a gamechanger, with vendors such as Doctor On Demand, MDLIVE and American Well, allowing patients to chat with their doctors remotely as needed. There are also consumer products such as anti-microbial phone cases, UV light sanitizers, personal air filters and more that promise to help alleviate symptoms or prevent the spread of the flu. There are even companies that offer products and services that serve both B2B and B2C audiences, such as Kinsa, which leverages anonymous body temperature data from its smart thermometers to build a real-time map of where people are experiencing the flu. They claim to track the flu season faster and in greater geographic detail than public health authorities can.

Although these new technologies and consumer products are becoming more and more promising every year, helping to ease the patient’s journey until the flu is cured, the companies that develop them need to remain conscientious of how they’re promoting and communicating with regard to their innovations. 


Put Compassion Ahead of Product Promotion

Last winter’s 19-week season was the deadliest in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications. While the technologies and products that health brands create are looking to help patients, caregivers and healthcare providers, there is a fine line between compassionate promotion and being insensitive toward those suffering.

Any communication needs to put the patient first and lead with empathy. Pitching a product or service following news stories about the death toll from this year’s flu season can result in audiences perceiving your brand as a scaremonger or “ambulance chaser.” Consider brand communications’ timing and messaging carefully.


Understand Your Audience and Channels

Companies should also be cognizant of who’s using their technology and match the audience to the proper message and channel.

For example, the consumer message for a smart thermometer, such as the Kinsa, should be that the devices allow people to monitor their child or parent remotely if they need to be away from home. There’s also a big data story behind the technology, about how hospitals and researchers can help track the spread of the flu across the country, but that’s ultimately not why consumers buy the thermometer. Both messages are important, and both should be distributed across different channels: TV for the consumer message, for example, and email marketing to prospective healthcare system customers for the big data story.


Be Honest About Expectations

As of today, there is still no cure for the flu. Innovators are constantly bringing new technologies and medications to market, but they should make sure to set clear expectations about how their product works and what it can and can’t do.

This may seem obvious, but it’s important. A company that has developed an anti-microbial phone case is not going to be the best expert to address flu treatments. Instead, it should focus on communications around what surfaces could potentially enhance or decrease the spread of germs. Consider the person delivering the message, too. For example, when conducting an interview to promote your new technology, is the best spokesperson the CEO, or the CTO with a medical background?

The flu is just one example of the countless health events that should be carefully strategized from a communications perspective. Although the flu has unfortunately turned into an annual occurrence and a major market compared to other illnesses, at the end of the day, brands and companies are looking to provide treatment and save lives, so it’s important to remember to put company objectives aside and focus on the patient first.


Curious about where the health industry is going in 2019? How social influencers and healthcare brands are working together? Read more posts from our Health Sector Team.

May 08, 2019

Health Sector Team