“Digital networks are increasing the fluidity of all media. The old choice between one-way public media (like books and movies) and two-way private media (like the phone) has now expanded to include a third option: two-way media that operates on a scale from private to public.”
– Clay Shirky
Over the past 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure of working in a variety of roles within several different companies, ranging from a major health plan, a multi-national pharmaceutical company, a multi-channel marketing/publishing provider—to a leading digital agency. Across all of these roles, a critical responsibility has been providing HCPs and patients/consumers with point of care marketing material that educates and either promotes a particular healthcare plan or a pharmaceutical company’s products.
This experience has provided me a front row seat for watching the evolution from providing solely printed material to a more digital, mobile-first delivery method. While it’s easy to assume that the rise of digital marketing has sent print communications to the dustbin, this simply isn’t the case. Just as television didn’t kill movies, and movies didn’t kill the theater, the rise of digital channels has transformed the role of print—but by no means rendered it irrelevant.
The continuing relevance of print is especially true in terms of health communications and health literacy. Given the need to communicate health information consistently across all ages, incomes, and education levels, print has several key attributes:
- Universal Access
- High Resolution
- Ease of use
Not surprisingly, just several years ago the best way to access patient education was to pick up a pamphlet or brochure at your doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. Despite incredible advances in technology, let’s see how paper stacks up against digital to address health literacy challenges:
- Access to health information
Print is an accessible, always on, generally low-cost medium.
- HCPs communicating effectively with their patients
In an office setting, print can be seamlessly introduced into the appointment, and allows for physicians to mark up additional information, and hand to the patient as they leave.
- Average American adults read at the 6th–8th grade reading level
The high resolution of print allows for the use of visual storytelling to complement the text narrative.
- Patients are not familiar with the language of their condition
Through design and font treatments, language-appropriate information can be displayed in a large, easy-to-read format that aids in comprehension.
So, print, in fact, still holds many powerful advantages and features. However, while print addresses many of the key challenges of health literacy, let’s look at the broader definition of Health Literacy: the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, understand health information and act on that information.
This important word—“act”—is where print falls short, especially when compared to digital platforms and smartphones. In other words, for obtaining and understanding essential health information, print is still a strong and viable option. But, if action and immediacy are critical, then some type of digital response needs to be woven into the communications stream.
A smartphone or tablet can become that bridge to action, especially in the waiting room. We now live a world that has disease state information in the waiting room accessible in both formats. Most magazine and newspaper articles today provide links to offer the reader additional reference material or infographics. Providers can encourage their patients to take action with their phones after the traditional print message is provided.
Surprisingly, even in this increasingly digital era, the path for achieving Results in Action can often begin with print —a powerful and portable media channel that has stood the test of time. Here at Cadient, as a digital agency we have embraced wave after wave of digital innovation, and have had great success implementing campaigns and programs that integrate both print and digital in order to drive brand objectives and positive patient outcomes. This integration is proving to be especially powerful as a majority of patients and HCPs now carry mobile devices!