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Who hasn’t Googled their health symptoms before only to find out that their lower back pain is scoliosis, their cough is meningitis, and their fever is swine flu? Our first reaction to health concerns is Google. But what if our first reaction was to FaceTime or video chat our doctor?

Telehealth (virtual doctor’s visits) seems like a no-brainer for society. At the touch of an app, you can video call a dermatologist and ask if that freckle on your right shoulder looks suspicious, instead of not scheduling an appointment for years.

Honestly, Telehealth is one of the most exciting and intuitive things to come to healthcare… ever!

Yet, the traction on these technologies has been quite mediocre. Only 33% of inpatient hospitals and 45% of outpatient facilities provide telehealth services. And only 4% of adults have had a telehealth visit with a doctor in the past year.

Telehealth is not a concept you can bring up at a cocktail party without turning heads.

“You want to talk to a random doctor on FaceTime?!”

So why hasn’t telehealth taken off in personal health management like the Apple Watch?

What’s Wrong With Telehealth Apps?

There’s not a shortage of telehealth ideas. Lemonaid Health helps people get basic medications for flu, anxiety, ED, high cholesterol, etc. Talkspace offers online counseling. First Derm will help you figure out what that rash is.

So it’s not that these companies aren’t doing everything they can to build habits by making it easier to access a specialist. They’ve got that covered.

What’s lacking, though, is trust.

A national sample of more than 2,250 adults aged 50 to 80… More than 80% of older adults polled expressed at least one concern about seeing a doctor or other provider virtually rather than in person.

U. Michigan, Futurity

People are apprehensive to use telehealth apps. As they should be. “Why should I trust some online doctor who I’ve never met? What if they’re an imposter? How is Facebook going to steal my health data and sell it?”

To the techie and healthcare professional, these concerns sound absurd. There are numerous approvals that telehealth apps need in order to do business. There’s no “Big Tech” involvement.

Still, the trust disconnect is exactly what telehealth must overcome.

Telehealth needs to catch on with the population of people that needs the most access to health care (older populations), which is simultaneously the population that is most untrustworthy and apprehensive of new technology. It’s actually quite ironic.

Telehealth has the potential to become behaviorally more significant than the annual “health check up”. It’s exactly the convenience we need to become preventative patients instead of reactive patients.

But trust is not built overnight. Telehealth, as a mainstream concept, will be decades in the making. What can telemedicine apps do in the meantime?

Invest in Trust

Obviously, trust is built better in person – one-on-one. But that’s just not feasible for telehealth to gain trust of people one at a time. There are, however, ways to build trust amongst a collective. And that’s through brand building. People can trust (or distrust) a brand in place of an individual.

Brand marketing is a bit of an ambiguous science. It’s not like advertising where you can measure cost-per-click, conversions, ROAS, and LTV.

Brand marketing is about style, taste, and intuition. It’s consistent storytelling, not for the clicks but for the sake of connecting with people’s hearts. Building a brand is literally constructing your own universe with beliefs and laws.

Every piece we write for Inevitable/Human either contributes or detracts from our brand equity. Collectively, it’s a macrocosm that feels like a slice out of the year 2029. If it doesn’t match the futurism taste, then we don’t write about it. Put it this way, we didn’t land a gig with BMW because of our numbers. 936 Instagram followers isn’t exactly bragworthy.

Marvel was not a great brand just a couple decades ago. Remember when the first Iron Man came out? Excitement wasn’t building in every community across America. Most people were consumed by the fact that Robert Downey Jr. was being cast in a major motion picture. But through compelling storytelling and the brand marketing, it’s become a franchise that does nearly $5 billion in movie ticket sales alone, per year.

Brand marketing is about nurturing a community. Soylent is a product that does this exceptionally well. Soylent drinkers have a virtual bond on Reddit and feel connected in person. The Information is a news service that builds their community via live, group calls for their subscribers.

Think of any product or service you know of where the customers do more marketing than the actual company. CrossFit, Apple, Barstool Sports, Orange Theory. That’s a sign of a great community.

Oscar Health and Incredible Health are two excellent examples of building brand in digital health. They aren’t telehealth companies, but a lot can be learned from them.

Building a brand – not just any brand, but a brand that people feel connected to – is not a familiar approach for healthcare companies. It’s actually one of the main reasons I spent so many years working in digital health for Redox.

All in all, telehealth companies need to be looking at a 10 year marketing strategy that cannot be measured with traditional KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

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