P medicine, engaged aging and technology-driven mass wellness are all laudable goals. However, moving them from theory and into practice will need to involve concerted efforts from a broad range of stakeholders, from medical companies to consumers themselves.
For example, 70% of US caregivers have expressed interest in technology that makes health activities less time-intensive, but only 7% are using solutions already on the market.
How can we close this gap? The empowered consumer is recognized as a disruptive force across multiple sectors, but how do you create empowered consumers in the medical sector in the first place?
Promoting positive behavioral change
If the medical industry’s most cutting-edge products and solutions are actually going to be used by those they are designed for, then they need to meet several criteria:
- They must have a user-centric design — people must enjoy using them.
- There must be low learning requirements — people shouldn’t be put off by complexity.
- They must immediately demonstrate apparent benefits.
- They must have the flexibility to address a variety of needs.
Additionally, if individuals are to be in control of their own health decisions, they will need access to the best data about their own performance. Wearable devices can help in providing this data, both for managing chronic illnesses and for maintaining and improving personal health, such as blood glucose sensors for diabetics and smart athletics wrist wearables.
We are moving to a world where data and algorithms that maximize health outcomes based on individual needs and preferences are the ultimate health care consumable. To create value now and in the future, data-centric business models, which are more commonly associated with online retailers, search engines and social networking sites, will provide interoperable information systems that collect, combine and share streams of data.
Such platforms can become mechanisms to connect disparate stakeholders — consumers, pharma companies, health care providers, policymakers, investors, insurers and so on — who are all driven by different incentives. Once connected, these stakeholders can share data and collaborate to combine their capabilities to drive improved health outcomes for every stakeholder group, delivered in the most cost-effective ways possible. We call the customer-focused, data driven industry that emerges from such efforts “Life Sciences 4.0.”
When designing plans and products that can help promote better consumer behavior, an understanding of behavioral economics can also help.
In 2017, economist Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for economics for his work on behavioral economics and “nudge” theory. Nudge theory suggests that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can influence people’s behavior without them being explicitly told to do so.
In one example, plastic houseflies were put in public urinals — men using the urinal would subconsciously aim for the fly and minimize splashing. Without being made aware of the end goals, their behavior was improved.
It’s no secret that when it comes to their personal health, people often need a bit of a nudge. It’s much easier to lie in bed and soak up the short-term comfort of a warm blanket than get up early for the gym in pursuit of long-term health. In behavioral economics, this is known as “hyperbolic discounting” —rather than acting rationally, people tend to choose smaller-sooner rewards (like that nice warm bed), than later-larger ones (like the outcome of that diet-and-fitness regime).
So how can we overcome this as we build toward the future of aging? What kind of incentives can hack into our short-term gain biases and rewire us for longtime wellness as we age? Any solution looking to nudge users into positive behavior, whether coming from employers, businesses or governments, should exhibit three key features. They should:
- Highlight small behavioral changes: We are all creatures of habit, and people are resistant to changes in the status quo. Effective solutions should be based around small, incremental changes, rather than big, unsustainable programs like crash diets.
- Properly incentivize participants: Long-term wellness is an important goal, but it can be difficult to visualize. Providing people with appealing short-term rewards, like digital tokens, or constructive feedback on progress can help keep them on track to meet long-term targets.
- Recognize small improvements: Similarly, if a program only offers the long-term target, participants may be discouraged by their lack of visible progress toward that goal. By setting out smaller, intermediary goals, participants can see week-by-week how they are progressing toward greater wellness targets and take control over their own fitness journey. Program designers also need to avoid “alarm fatigue,” where users get so many prompts that they cease paying attention to any of them.