We're on the brink of a health-tech revolution
A view from Alexia Clifford

We're on the brink of a health-tech revolution

A whopping 85% of us now have a smartphone, which we check every 12 minutes; 50% of people use the internet to attempt to self-diagnose, while 75% seek health information online. There is clearly a rapidly increasing public desire for accessible health information.

Today, the UK is at a pivotal point in understanding how we can go about meeting that need. The next few years will provide a key opportunity for health technology, with an unprecedented period of innovation possibilities across the sector.

More than ever before, people are finding that they can begin controlling aspects of their health in the new digital and social landscape in ways that were impossible to contemplate even a year ago.

At Public Health England, we recognise our role in ensuring everyone has access to clear, clinically proven information, advice and support to change their behaviour.

We also understand that this remit also means delivering engaging information to the right audience at the right time.

It also means constantly monitoring developments in technology to make it easier for people to make a change in their lives, while applying three core principles: effective targeting, cutting-edge digital tools and partnerships.

Targeting on digital platforms is incredibly important, enabling us to get to people with relevant health messages when they’re in the right mindset.

One of the ways in which we’re addressing this is by working to develop a deep understanding of how to balance "implicit" signals from our audiences, such as demographics and time of day, with "explicit" ones, such as topics they’re most interested in.

These signals continually change and it's our responsibility to adapt quickly to best use the targeting capabilities of digital platforms.

We also need to deliver the best content and we are evolving a wide portfolio of cutting-edge digital tools to do this. Examples include the "How are you?" quiz, which has helped more than two million adults identify the most important health behaviours for them to focus on; and the Change4Life Food Scanner app, which has been used more than 50 million times to scan products' bar codes, so that people can see at a glance the equivalent number of sugar cubes stacking up in their food and drink.

Our third focus, on digital partnerships, allows us to innovate with the platforms and technologies where people are spending their time.

We want our campaigns to reach everyone, not just the most digitally literate or technologically competent, which means we’re always on the lookout for mass-reach tech solutions.

Can it be delivered as a website, a free app, a social post?

In addition to this, through our work with leading platform partners, we’re looking at emerging technologies, such as our recent work with Amazon and Google, using their smart speaker technologies to develop a breastfeeding assistant for our early years campaign, Start4Life.

This increased interest is exciting in terms of encouraging healthier behaviour at scale, but the quality and impartiality of advice available frequently comes into question.

With major brands and self-appointed "experts" all playing in the space, advice can range from confusing to ineffective or even dangerous.

These are just some of the many opportunities and challenges the health sector has to address, as we further venture into a new – and exciting – period of introducing capabilities for people not just to understand their health and behaviours better, but hopefully arming them with the best possible information with which they can make informed decisions on ways to act.

Alexia Clifford is deputy director of marketing activation at Public Health England

A version of this article first appeared on PRWeek