As big tech companies continue to make headlines, giving consumers more reasons to worry about who has access to their personal information, we’ve been thinking about what this all means for the healthcare industry. Google is under the microscope now, as the federal government investigates whether the company violated privacy laws when it partnered with the healthcare provider Ascension to analyze patient data. But “Project Nightingale,” as the inquiry has been nicknamed, is just the latest twist in big tech’s troubled foray into the healthcare market.

Back in early 2018, Amazon, along with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, formed a new initiative to tackle healthcare that got a lot of us talking about the “Amazonification” of the healthcare industry. Since this announcement, Amazon has also introduced new software that can help healthcare providers search patient data, and is expanding Alexa’s health and wellness capabilities. Clearly, Amazon sees healthcare as an area full of growth opportunities where it can flex its data and AI muscle.

When the news first broke, it left many questions to the imagination. We all know that companies like Amazon and Google sit on the motherlode of consumer data, paired with an incredible capacity to use that data to make savvy decisions and offer relevant products to specific audiences. When those superpowers are applied to healthcare, or given access to stored healthcare data, both patient expectations and patient skepticism rise.

New Frontiers of Data and Privacy in Healthcare

Let’s tackle skepticism first. Think about it: When we shop for certain items on Amazon, what does that tell Amazon about our health? And who does Amazon tell about it?

For example, if a person searches on Amazon for new insoles for their shoes, could they be flagged as prediabetic? And could that information be shared through Amazon software with their doctor or insurance carrier? Add to that new incentives to link our health trackers with certain providers to access discounts on health insurance (think about how your employer may incentivize you to get your steps in by using a company-discounted health-tracking watch), and what doesn’t Amazon know about us?

It’s not just Amazon, either. Tech companies are all in on consumer health. After all, the healthcare market isn’t just growing, it’s ballooning. U.S. health spending was at $3.65 trillion in 2018. What does your Apple watch know about your health that your doctor would like to know? When your doctor dictates your medical notes through Google’s voice services, what data is Google collecting about your latest test results? Tech companies are integrating artificial intelligence and enhanced data mining capabilities to offer healthcare technologies that are capable of doing so much more than streamlining the system or improving patient health.

All of these advancements may not be great for doctor-patient relationships. That’s because, when it comes to our own personal health information, Americans are skeptical of technology and big data. Three years ago, more than 57% of Americans were already skeptical of health information technology. They’re also less trusting of their doctors. In fact, patients are growing more wary than ever of healthcare institutions.

The Patient’s Shifting Mindset

The Amazonification of healthcare has resulted in a mindset shift, as we see that more providers will be treating their patients like retail customers whose trust they need to earn. Not only do patients have access to more and more information about their own health and are empowered to make their own decisions, they also expect more from their providers. Patients are now looking for convenient access to healthcare, digital channels in addition to a fully integrated approach, and continuous relationships with their providers.

It will be your job as a player in the industry to provide all that, while comforting your patients about the use of their data. Our advice will always be to keep your messaging human, simple and honest. Patients, especially the most vulnerable who are in the greatest need of healthcare services, are almost always overwhelmed by health-related decisions and information. Still, they no longer simply accept the recommendations of their providers, taking decisions and research into their own hands and expecting a higher level of care.

Messaging that reminds consumers and patients that healthcare is about protecting their health, not collecting their data, will win even in the face of so many technical advancements. Your role will be to meet the ever-changing needs of your patients while providing a deeper understanding of them. Data and technology can help you achieve that, if done with sensitivity.

Messaging Matters

Our expertise lies in finding the right communication vehicles to put out those messages. Now more than ever it is our imperative to adopt a voice that is comforting, simple and empowering for consumers in the healthcare market.

Leave it to us to keep up with the many changes in the healthcare landscape, and find the right messaging vehicles to push out your messages. Of course, the health information you will be sending to a newlywed in her 30s will not be the same information you send to her mother, who is retired and living in Florida. We see opportunity for the use of social influence and targeted messaging to get the right health information to the right people, while comforting them that the data we use is simply to empower them, not to trap, admonish or scam them. We help clients make better use of their data, including marketing automation and CRM systems that enable much more segmented and targeted communications, while adhering to the many complex regulations around patient privacy.

Getting Past Skepticism

While there are many concerns, we also feel cautiously optimistic about all that technology can do to improve the healthcare experience. Health insurance companies have long dreamed of a data nirvana where everyone can be connected with the right kind of data and the right resources. Considering all that companies like Google and Amazon have been able to achieve by disrupting so many different industries, we can see best possible outcomes that include shorter wait times at doctor’s offices, improved scheduling processes, follow-up communications and even a more comprehensive approach to the total healthcare of the individual patient.

We will continue to watch all that the big tech companies are doing in the healthcare landscape, anticipating how the relationships with patients will change and the ways we can help our clients navigate the newly disrupted industry. It is important to hold companies accountable when patient privacy is being violated, and we hope Project Nightingale will be a lesson to all tech companies to tread softly when it comes to patient information. We will be paying close attention as the healthcare industry responds to evolving patient demands, the expanded role of data and ever-increasing profit margins.