Digital health resources: the trust paradox

Will S
Will Simpson, Decision Architects

Why do so many consumers utilise health apps and services, yet convey limited trust in these online resources? Decision Architects’ Will Simpson discusses the digital health trust paradox.

In late 2015, PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) announced their top ten health industry issues to look out for in 2016 – amongst them, cyber security concerns coming to healthcare technology.

With more people using digital health apps and services, privacy and cyber security will be top of mind for both consumers and providers. A recent Decision Architects survey, designed to explore the attitudes of patients towards self-care (including diagnosis, treatments and self-management) and the use of online and mobile applications in healthcare, sheds more light on the cyber security concerns of patients.

This blog explores some of the key findings of that research and discusses the implications for patients and providers.

The digital healthcare space has experienced rapid growth these last few years. We’ve seen disruptive change arrive from new technologies and online resources. The range of healthcare related ‘apps’ on the ‘app’ store provide a telling barometer of scale to mHealth (mobile health) adoption, with some 165,000 applications currently available. Patients are now willing, able and empowered to understand their own health related issues and conditions through these tools.

According to Decision Architects data:

  • 70% of patients said they would look for information online about possible conditions or illnesses before discussing it with a healthcare professional

  • 78% of patients have heard of (59% have used) health related websites and apps (including, WebMD, NHS choices)

With so many patients utilising these technologies, these figures may prompt the question, ‘what security concerns?’

According to our data, the answer is clear: Trust.

Digital healthcare consumers are drawing an important paradox that all companies working in this sector should be aware of.

As we’ve seen, lots of people are using the internet for health purpose, however:

  • 59% of patients don’t like to share personal data online

  • Only 26% of patients show “high trust” levels in online professional advice websites related to health

  • Only 15% of patients show “high trust” levels in online forums and discussions related to health

We can extrapolate from this that while mobile and online health engagement may be high, the extent to which a person is willing to take action from that engagement is unclear.

As with all products or services to enter any new market, there is a life cycle from introduction to growth, through maturity and beyond. For each product or service, different problems will need to be overcome to take those next steps in that cycle. For mobile health, solving this “trust paradox” will require a methodical approach:




Establishing trust with your consumer is key to any successful business. Healthcare may not operate in the BTC route to market typical of other industries, yet for healthcare providers establishing that trust is perhaps never more so important.

Our research shows that unsurprisingly, GPs, local NHS hospitals and Pharmacists receive highest trust levels amongst consumers, while professional health advice websites, online forums etc. perform relatively poorly. However, this pre-established trust with HCPs presents an opportunity for mobile and digital health providers. Only through endorsement will they be able to accelerate this cycle of establishing trust with its consumers. The goal is not to usurp HCPs, but rather act as a viable, reliable and trusted option. With healthcare costs spiralling, with scheduling bottlenecks and greater demand than supply, the opportunity is certainly there to work in synergy with established healthcare systems, if this trust can be established.

In any marketplace, there will be distinct groups of consumers – some willing to adopt or try new products and technology early (i.e. the typical “early adopter”) and others more willing to wait and see (i.e. the typical “laggards”) and many profiles in between of course.

Segmenting those consumers is key in determining what levers mobile and digital health companies need to pull in order to gain the greatest return. Market research can help identify and understand those segments, the healthcare channels they use, their attitudes and beliefs to healthcare related issues and products and their actual behaviours. Understanding these segments can help mobile and digital health companies establish relationships and build trust with them.

Earlier in this blog, we discussed the mHealth (mobile health) landscape, with some 165,000 applications currently available. That’s a lot of choice in an area not everyone will understand or trust themselves to use.

Differentiating or standing out from the crowd is key to establishing presence in this crowded landscape. Clear messaging which communicates your product or services USP is essential. In addition, using the right channels to communicate those messages is even more important.

The opportunity for mobile and digital health companies is undeniable; our data supports this belief. Yet converting engagement into actual activation still seems some way off, in many instances. Overcoming the barriers set out in this article, in our opinion, is key to those digital and mobile health providers looking to establish themselves in the minds of the consumer as a trusted healthcare source or provider.

About the authors: Decision Architects is a strategic marketing consultancy. We focus on what matters most to our clients by applying intelligent research, consultancy and data science skills to address key business questions. Our healthcare practice has worked with clients across the healthcare sector. From medical technology and healthcare innovators through to globally recognised pharmaceutical companies. Our aim is to make accessible the key information decision-makers need in order to drive effective business choices. For more information telephone: 020 3397 2550 or visit