When Emotion Gets in the Way of Adoption: Overcoming the Fundamental Challenge for any Health Tech Company
Recently, the Chief Product Officer of Celmatix, Angie Lee, gave an incredibly engaging speech at an event held by HealthTech Women called "Take Charge of Your Reproductive Health & Biological Clock". Focused on the advances in DNA and reproductive health technology, and how this information is empowering women to make smarter decisions about their health, this talk provided a platform for a topic that is often pushed to the side and behind closed doors.
Celmatix has been working since it was first founded in 2009 by Dr. Piraye Yurttas Beim to develop research-driven products to empower women, such as a data analytics platform to help optimize patient management and counseling called Polaris and a multi-gene genetic test for reproductive health called Fertilome. Angie's impact on the company since she first joined in 2013 has been profound as she has helped continue to shape the suite of offerings Celmatix boasts for women struggling with fertility. Today, Celmatix has been noted as one of the most innovative companies in 2017.
Inspired by the speech she gave, we asked Angie to expand further on her thoughts about the importance of presenting data in an approachable manner to address infertility by authoring a guest article for us.
Technological innovation is happening at a faster pace than ever. At the current rate of innovation, the 21st century will bring more new technologies than the previous 20,000 years combined. With new technology comes a dramatic increase in data. By 2020, technologists predict that 1.7 megabytes of data per second will be created by every person on earth.
New technology, and the data it creates, promises to give us greater insights and more control over our health than ever before. And yet, the healthcare startups that aim to move this revolution forward fail about 98% of the time.
The reasons are many, and varied. Regulatory risk, large legacy systems that don’t make evolution easy, data systems that shun interoperability—they all play a part. At the heart of all these challenges, however, is one fundamental truth: change is difficult. Technology may leap forward at ever-faster rates, but people don’t.
The first barrier to change is simple stubbornness. Many people just don’t see the need for something different. If it ain’t broke...well, you know. But even those with the vision to imagine a different future face resistance. Some lack the economic means to constantly replace their recently-acquired gadgets and systems with something even newer. Others simply don’t have the time to get up to speed on the next big thing.
As health tech entrepreneurs, whose passion drives us to leverage technological innovations and apply them to health and wellness, how do we bridge this divide? How do we present advances that make scientific sense to patients and doctors who have inborn, often reasonable resistance to change?
As the Chief Product Officer at Celmatix, my role is to translate our scientific discoveries into products that women (and their physicians) can use to make more informed decisions about their reproductive health. In a perfectly rational world, the value of our genetic panel, the Fertilome® test, and our data-analytics platform, Polaris®, is extremely straightforward: these products give women more information so they can make better decisions about their reproductive health.
But better science and data isn’t enough to change behavior. We must find ways of connecting with people in ways that have little to do with logic.
Over the past four years, our product team has sought out the voices of more than 5,000 women to help us understand their attitudes towards reproductive health and decision making. What we’ve learned is that success comes down to two things: helping women understand the “more” and the “better”.
Making “more” work
At Celmatix, we made the active choice to frame all of our messaging in terms of education. Our wish was to have a meaningful, positive impact on women’s health, and educating women about new technologies and the promise they hold seemed like a way to advance our mission while creating a market for our products.
When we applied this choice to the development of the Fertilome test, our first priority became educating consumers on the connection between genetics and fertility. We aimed to explain genes and the role that DNA can play in fertility. Soon, we discovered the weakness of this approach. We were so focused on enhancing what women already knew that we never questioned what, exactly, that was. Without a baseline understanding of reproductive health, our “more” argument was meaningless.
Other health and wellness products have faced this same challenge. Nicorette gum, a smoking cessation aid, realized that their success was tied to people understanding the link between cigarette smoking and health risks. This led them to focus on a public health campaign to complement their consumer messaging.
The lesson: In order to make “more” work, you first have to answer the question, “More than what?” Successful communication of that answer is the foundation upon which of all our efforts are built.
To put it simply, if it ain’t broke doesn’t work as a rationalization to resist change if someone can be made to understand what “it” is and why it’s most definitely “broke.”
Even after successfully educating someone about why the status quo isn’t sufficient, you can still count on resistance. The barriers may be economic or psychological, but both can be overcome by focusing on the “better” part of the equation.
Studies about HIV testing found that fear of HIV can decrease the likelihood that someone will get tested, even if they are at a high risk for the disease. Similarly, when a woman reaches the age when a scientist would advise she start taking action to understand and optimize her fertility, she may feel anxious and avoid it. Ignorance, sometimes, is bliss. That’s a huge challenge for those endeavoring to introduce introducing new and novel information.
And this emotional reaction isn’t easily shouted down by logic. “Better” when talking about miles per gallon or square feet is easy to define. “Better” when confronting personal health decisions that carry risks and fears requires real bravery.
At Celmatix, we believe that empathetic design is critical to communicating scientific information with humanity and compassion. We take intimidating, complex information and create intuitive tools that empower women to define and understand their own “better.”
Bridging the gap
Here are some guiding principles that have helped us drive adoption by refining our approach to product development and communication:
- Meet customers where they are, not where they “should” be. Instead of starting with untested assumptions and expecting customers to come to you, work hard to understand their needs, emotions, and frustrations. In the case of Celmatix, we understand that the family building journey is extremely personal, and women’s needs can vary wildly. Messaging that resonates with a woman undergoing IVF will likely not resonate with a young woman who is considering egg freezing because she doesn’t want to get pregnant for years. Understanding our customers helps us tailor our approach accordingly.
- Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Health can be scary. Many companies deal with this by taking a matter-of-fact or clinical approach to describing the value propositions of their products and services. This is meant to remove the emotion from the messaging, as if by not acknowledging it one can simply make it disappear. Predictably, this approach often comes across as disconnected and cold. At Celmatix, we create meaningful relationships with our audience by speaking to, rather than running away from, the emotions driving their decision-making. This helps women feel more connected, and less alone, which in turn inspires the confidence they need to start taking control.
- Empowerment > fear. Fearmongering may have worked for anti-smoking campaigns, but we take the opposite approach. Many women already experience fear and, at times, shame about their reproductive health decisions. Rather than leverage negativity, we emphasize the empowerment that comes with information. We don’t tell women what to do, we arm them with the information they need to make the right decisions for themselves.
Celmatix is a science-driven company, but our science only matters if we can communicate its value. People confronting fertility difficulties or huge life decisions are complicated, passionate, and often driven by emotion—just like you and me. But emotion isn’t just a hindrance to decision-making. It can be an opportunity, too. By providing context, speaking to women about the emotions they may experience, and maintaining positivity, we establish the kind of communication that drives comfort with and adoption of our innovative technologies.