Injecting the self-care into healthcare will transform lives

The NHS is under extreme pressure and life expectancy has stalled for the first time in decades. Yet we see medical, wellbeing and healthcare innovations everyday in our business that show how advanced, and hyper-personalised the industry has become. We’re exploring how brands can use their insights and innovations to collaborate and create lasting and positive change for every consumer – and that begins with emotion. From self-care and health monitoring, to nutrition and sleep, we know that if we can understand the emotional drivers behind health and wellbeing choices, we can change them.

Data will save us. With enough data at our fingertips we should be able to predict medical outcomes, catch disease early and administer preventative care based on an individual’s DNA. Advances in machine learning, combined with the lowering cost of technologies such as genome sequencing, mean this medical utopia is for everyone.

Except it’s not.

The technology might already be here. But we’ve seen public spending on healthcare struggle to catch up with demand from an ageing population, and life expectancy is actually declining in some areas, bucking an 100-year-old trend. This fact has led the UK government to commit to narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest and increase independent living for everyone by five years, by 2035.

“People on average live 20 years longer in richer areas than poorer, and we feel a responsibility to support our customers with relevant products and services in healthcare”

Dahlia Stroud - Senior Buying Manager for Healthcare, Asda

The extreme scenarios and burdens we are facing – which will combine with a slowdown in GDP as population growth slows – mean the state of public health is no longer the domain of government alone. Collaboration is key. It’s why “population health” – what think tank The King’s Fund describes as the “collective sense of responsibility across many organisations and individuals” – has become the fundamental outlook and approach to addressing the crisis. And we have seen the commercial sector already step up to balance the scales when it comes to access.

“People on average live 20 years longer in richer areas than poorer, and we feel a responsibility to support our customers with relevant products and services in healthcare,” Dahlia Stroud, Asda’s Senior Buying Manager for Healthcare, tells us. “We’re looking at how we can support communities and make healthy living more accessible and affordable for all. Anything our pharmacies and stores can do to better support the NHS, which is under increasing pressure, and serve our customers quickly, is a real win.”

Across categories, companies are collaborating to instil lasting behaviour change among consumers. Mattress-maker Casper and fitness app Aaptiv joined in 2017 to create an exercise plan that promotes better sleep, while Nike and Headspace launched mindful runs that same year to tackle mental health. Incumbents are changing their business plans to adapt to a healthier norm, with PepsiCo buying baked fruit and vegetable snack maker Bare Foods, Coca Cola acquiring the company behind NutrientWater and Cocobella coconut water, and Unilever buying healthy snack startup Graze for a reported £150m in February.

Each collaboration and investment shows a responsive economy that is shifting in line with consumer trends and needs. But to have the greatest impact, we know these shifts need to be backed up with detailed insight.

Where is all the data?

The government’s own attempt at gaining more healthcare insight fell flat on its face in 2016. Care.data was designed to quickly and easily share information about individual patients across services, and anonymously with researchers. However, it also planned to share personal medical information with commercial third parties without explicit patient consent – a fact that saw it widely panned for failing to clearly address privacy concerns.

Today, the private sector is succeeding where government failed to – but largely on an individual basis. Thriva helps individuals track and improve their own health with at-home blood tests, and Campbell’s Soup invested $32 million in Habit, a service that collects genetic data to deliver a personal nutrition plan. Neither service, however, addresses population health.

“The emerging innovations in the health and wellness industry are great – but a lot of our core customers are managing everyday healthcare issues on a day-to-day basis,” says Stroud. “A family might be made up of a carer, someone on long-term medication, and someone being tested for diabetes. How do we make sure we service all these needs in the right way? People have less disposable income – how do we enable easier access, to support them?”

We believe preventative care presents the greatest opportunity here. In a government white paper on the subject, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock echoed the need for collaboration: “Everyone has a part to play, and we must work together across society… I want us to be working with all those who have a role in influencing health: communities, employers, industry, local government, housing, schools and charities.” And for Asda and others, being effective in this space relies on getting closer to individual consumer needs.

“We need to understand the full customer base and where people are on their healthcare journey,” Stroud explains. “Everyone’s is different. For me, health might mean that I give up coffee for life; for you it might be switching from full fat to diet coke. How do you define what it means for different people, and service them accordingly?”

Emotion drives healthcare choices

Companies need to reach consumers in the moment of decision-making. But first, they need to understand how those decisions are made.

Emotion is at the heart of every decision we make when it comes to health and wellbeing. Fear of bad news or of too much knowledge prevents people from seeing their GP. Anxieties and insecurities lead to eating disorders. And personal setbacks that leave us feeling low can result in unhealthy choices. There is a vast disconnect between what we know is good for us, and what we actually do – and much of that is driven by emotion.

Emotion as a way to understand, and ultimately modify health-related behaviours, is increasingly being explored in academic circles. In the paper “Emotions and Health Decision Making”, a team of psychologists explain that since many life-shortening diseases such as diabetes and cancer can be prevented due to behaviour changes, there is vast potential in using behavioural science to improve quality and length of life. “Knowing whether a person is fearful, angry, sad, or disgusted (or some combination of these) in a medical context, and understanding judgement and decision-making implications for such emotion states, has tremendous potential to improve outcomes…This research has implications for understanding and motivating healthy behaviors and improving process of care and medical decisions.”

The King’s Fund identifies that motivation and self-confidence are key tenants to behaviour change in health. And that these can be achieved, among other things, by changing emotional experiences: “reducing stress or negative emotions such as depression through, for example, relaxation techniques.”

If experience and emotion drive our decision-making – from whether we decide to tell a doctor about a worrisome symptom, down to how we absorb advice and change our diet habits – then to improve population health we need to get closer to what consumers are thinking and feeling, and when.

This is the premise behind Happen’s own emotion analytics tool, StarMaker, which homes in on emotive language from among millions of online comments and offline data (company surveys or consumer relations transcripts, for instance). “That conversation is full of noise – we needed to get to the pieces that are meaningful,” explains David Walker, Happen Co-Founder and CEO. “We wanted to get to the pieces of emotions that move people to action.”

Unsurprisingly, our big data tool has its origins in the healthcare industry – StarMaker began as a means of understanding patient journeys in the NHS. We found that an individual’s biggest grievances with the institution often occur before they’ve even seen a doctor – at reception or in the car park. These hidden moments of frustration revealed how the NHS could get more people through the door and improve the patient’s entire treatment journey. One piece of insight proved to have enormous implications. This was when we realised the unparalleled importance of emotion in data.

For our clients, the most important aspect of big data is how it enables them to meet consumer needs in the moment those needs arise. “Data allows us to get to know our customers and population better,” says Stroud. “It’s about getting the right message to the right people; understanding the individual’s healthcare journey, then figuring out how we can be there at the right moments in time. That’s our strategy – to be there right through a person’s lifespan.”

“We’re looking at how to get the best offerings into stores based on this and, in the advent of services such as online ordering of prescriptions, how we drive forward and embrace digital more to ensure customers have access to affordable solutions and are supported in their healthcare needs.”

Education and accessibility are in fact the biggest barriers to people buying medicine or taking preventative healthcare measures, according to a survey of 3,500 consumers carried out by pharmaceuticals company Perrigo. Rather than affordability being the main driver, consumers tended to believe the issue was either not severe enough (25%) or that it would pass quickly (26%). And the answer to overcoming those barriers lies in accessing emotion, says director of commercial strategy and implementation Dan Williams.

Purchases are ultimately based on two things, he argues: a rational or emotional decision, and if the issue is seen as an immediate need or one for later. “We found ‘emotional/later’ doesn’t really exist,” says Williams. “People are driven by emotion when they have an immediate need – when it’s longer term and preventative it’s hard to tap into the emotion because they are not thinking about tomorrow.”

“That is changing, though. People are thinking more about the future and taking more of the right steps. We have all the facts and figures and logic that say it’s what we should be focussing on. But it is more difficult to tap into their emotions to drive that.”

Perrigo’s team did discover that emotional shoppers are more interested in education and engagement with people, though, so they are working with Asda to trial a new setup where the pharmacist is front and centre of the healthcare environment in-store. “We’re really trying to drive that contact with people,” explains Williams. “The project with Asda is interesting because we can have the education for certain products in an environment that’s really accessible to shoppers and at the heart of the community.”

“The key is to help people make better choices – it’s not for us to force people in to certain things, we just need to make sure they have access to the information, the pharmacist and different types of products that will enable them to feel confident and empowered when it comes to self-care choices.”

“For me, the future is making the retail environment the first port of call for a patient.”

There are a multitude of factors impacting population health – from environmental to financial. We cannot deliver equal access to good housing, green spaces and cleaner air overnight. But if we can access, learn from and act on the emotional drivers behind daily healthcare decisions – from the food choices consumers make to the advice they seek – change has the potential to be impactful and lasting.

This article is part of Happen’s Emotion Matters series. Watch this space for more insights on how emotion analytics stand to transform every industry – from helping companies understand what inspires employees, to revealing the unmet opportunities in healthcare.

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