SHIFT Healthcare Q&A Part 2: Writing and Healthcare Trends

This is the second blog post in a series of two posts in the SHIFT Healthcare team’s Q&A with our friend and colleague Mike Feibus, President and Principal Analyst, FeibusTech, as well as Contributor for USA Today and Fortune. Our first installment focused on the taboos and to-dos of event outreach for PR professionals. This second half takes a closer examination of Mike’s personal writing style, offering a key distinction between news reporters and contributors, and how he spots trends. We also explore Mike’s perspective on the major healthcare trends he’s observed over the past few months and delve deeper into topics like interoperability and the consumerization of care.

Q: Now that you’re contributing to Fortune in addition to USA Today, is there anything in particular that you’re looking for? I know they are very different but are there similar things you’re looking for in terms of sources for both publications?

A: Well they are very different but they’re more alike than they appear. Both publications are looking to educate and/or entertain readers. They sit at different spots on the spectrum but I think I could generalize and say anything for USA Today would work in Fortune. The reverse isn’t true because I can get deeper and more thoughtful in Fortune. USA Today is great practice for any writer, because to be good, you have to hone the skill of getting to the point quickly and make it as applicable to readers right away. That is a very portable skill, and will serve you anywhere as a writer. Obviously Fortune has a business audience and USA Today is more of a consumer audience, but everyone in business is also a consumer.

I’m difficult to pitch. I rarely write about a single product or technology (though the Fortune column on UnitedHealthcare is an exception to that rule) but I’m usually looking for pieces that fit into a trend column. It’s not just the pitch itself that has to be good – timing and luck also plays a role on whether a pitch is successful. The other thing is that success for a pitch often isn’t immediate. Oftentimes I’ll say “Oh this is cool” and put it off to the side until I find a couple other things that map back to that trend.

Q: How often do you find yourself looking at a pitch that I didn’t really think connected with X or this is an entirely new trend I wasn’t aware of (likely never the case)?

A: Well that’s funny because that is the silver lining to the avalanche (see the first part of the blog post series for more tradeshow outreach tips for PR pros). You start to see trends based on the flow of email that is coming at you. They start to make themselves apparent. That’s tremendously valuable and it’s difficult for me during tradeshows to start scheduling meetings because I want to wait and watch more. That’s the toughest part. When am I going to pull the trigger and start setting up meetings? You have three full days and maybe 40 different folks that you can meet with out of…I don’t even know how many that email you.

Q: Let’s switch gears a little and talk about healthcare. Did you see a common theme across the events? Or noticeably different? And where do you see healthcare going in 2016 and beyond with those insights in mind?

A: The stories are definitely gelling now. They have more meat on the bones than they did a year ago.  If you look at the stages of things, one thing that struck me this year was the entrance of new, big heavy hitters in tech that previously haven’t been big players in healthcare. sticks out but there are others. But their solution in particular is pretty good. Healthcare does need to start thinking more about consumers. So a company with a bang up CRM solution is pretty well-suited for this. I think that’s primarily it. There have been more details that have made healthcare more real, to the casual observer who’s looking in because they’re starting to jump in as well.

Consumerization was kind of a subtheme that got a lot louder this year too. Rather than talking about people as patients, companies are talking about them as consumers that you want to please and give them the best service they  can.

Q: Any predictions to how consumerization will shift in the next year or so?

A: Folks in technology, particularly in predictive analytics and personalization stuff should take one engineer off the team and add one sales person. Because when you think of it, a lot of the process of engaging patients is a lot like a sales call. How we first get introduced to the process and how you build trust with us is important and I think health tech is just starting to understand that. It’s absolutely critical. Continuous care depends on people participating and sending off their data, if they don’t trust this stuff, it’s dead in the water. That’s rising to the forefront.

Q: What do you think will be the next step in terms of interoperability and data sharing. It baffles me it’s still as much of an issue today. I get the holdup…but I don’t get it at the same time. What’s your take?

A: You know, the devil’s in the details. You think about data as data until you look closely and start digging in, you see different people have structured it differently, labeled things differently. What tech calls meta tags are absolutely critical; if there’s not a standard for it you have to find a way to reconcile the data over here with the data over there before you can meld them.

Here’s an interesting perspective – it comes from my work in tech. Two years ago in the internet of things, all these standards were popping up – competing standards. Everyone had something that said “here’s how we’re going to communicate between this little piece and that little piece” and the mantra was that we need to all talk the same language, otherwise the IoT vision won’t work. Last year, that concern faded because folks are just taking care of it. They’re taking it upon themselves to make sure that these set of commands can be understood by these guys with this hardware. So we’re just fixing it. It’s not an issue anymore. I think that’s what’s going to happen with healthcare interoperability too. Folks like Cerner and Epic, they know that if they don’t all work together in some way, their business isn’t going to go forward. So it’ll get solved and the handwringing will go away. It’s complicated but ultimately it has to be solved.

Q: Do you think it’ll be solved because a big player will pony up and set the tone or will everyone come to the conclusion that it’s important to play nicer? Everyone’s hot on FHIR but nothing is happening…yet.

A: The big guys have a lot to digest just moving over to EHRs. There is an opportunity for smaller, nimbler folks and I think they’re starting to take advantage of it and will either become big folks or get bought by big folks.

Q: With wearables and consumer-facing tech in mind being more integrated into health plans, do you think we’ll see more of that or do you think we’ll go back to a “non-tracking” stage?

A: I think the potential is way too valuable for trackers. Problem #1, though, is getting accurate data. The wrist isn’t a good area to gather information. It moves around, in lots of different directions. I think the accuracy problem will be solved elsewhere on the body. I think we are going to start to see more connected clothing emerge, because it can fit snugly around other parts of the body. Also, the ear is a very good place to take measurements. It doesn’t move, and the heartbeat is very close to the surface so it’s much easier to read.

We could be a lot healthier by monitoring and adjusting what we’re doing. By systematically measuring. There are opportunities there. I wrote a column for Fortune not too long ago on this. UnitedHealthcare is starting to pay members who meet daily activity goals – up to nearly $1,500 a year. With annual enrollment, United can’t really expect to have members as customers for more than a year. Which means they are see a very short ROI for this program. That’s pretty telling I think. United is willing to pay for the device, the support program, the cloud infrastructure – and pay people for doing three different levels of activity per day. It gives you an idea how much of a difference you can make by getting people to monitor and adjust their activity levels.

As more tech giants like Apple and Salesforce continue to advance beyond the toe-dipping forays into healthcare, and the average consumer become more and more engaged in their care, the SHIFT healthcare team would agree with Mike that we really are at a tipping point in the industry. The industry and consumers are ready for a paradigm shift and data sharing will not go away. Stakeholders need to get on board sooner rather than later and break down the barriers that prevent IoT because that is the future, and the entire system – payers, hospitals, employers, consumers – need to get on board.

Like Mike watching pitches pouring in around these tradeshow events, the SHIFT team will be closely observing the industry’s evolution over the next year. Hopefully our tradeshow conversations with Mike in 2017 will show that the industry has made some progress and, on the PR front, he’s getting at least a few less Corporatese pitches.

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