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AI and health: a delicate balance

Healthcare marketing is in a category of its own. That’s why, Susan Dorfman of WPP’s CMI Media Group, says there’s a delicate balance to be struck between AI and human connection 

“AI should scale us. AI and machine learning are part of what we do every day – in our lives and in our work,” says Dorfman. “But, in healthcare, the human touch can be necessary too.”

She continues: “After all, in healthcare, the consumer is not trying to get or become something new; they’re trying to get back to where they were. That’s why it’s especially important that machines and humans work well together.” 

She is emphatic that the patient experience should be central to the decision as to whether, where and when to use AI or humans in healthcare communications, especially across ageing populations. So much so that she addressed this topic onstage at SXSW this month, alongside clients Oz Demir from Genentech, Tarak Shaw from Ferring and WPP’s Lee Powell, moderated by CMI’s Carly Kuper.

Designing the right experience 

Dorfman talks about creating a communications journey that combines humans and machines, and that allows access by the consumer to people when they are needed. But she also points to the value of getting quick answers and information from machines.

“It’s all about putting the patient in the centre of the experience, and designing those experiences with the patient in mind,” she says. But these are early days for AI in healthcare communications – an area of communications that is complex and highly regulated – and while CMI has been using some forms of AI for decades, other uses are still being tested. 

“Firstly, brands in this category are asking: what do we automate – not just for efficiency, but also for job satisfaction? And how do we load check; how do we get knowledge, become more efficient and potentially become more effective with that knowledge?” she says, adding that some of these decisions relate to generative AI, and others to machine learning and the wider context for the use of AI technologies.

“Secondly, as we use all the data that is now available, we start to uncover intelligence…automated intelligence. This gives us knowledge at our fingertips must faster than if there had been human intervention,” she says. 

Dorfman predicts that – over time and AI technology use – we will see call outs along the patient journey at points at which interventions can and should happen: “This knowledge will give us the power to say where else we can go using AI, and where there is a need for empathy – where the patient needs access to an individual. We’re at the start of this phase and the more we can learn, the better and stronger healthcare communications will be.”

There is little doubt that AI is all about scale, but it’s also an evolution. She says that anything that impacts customer satisfaction must be fully understood before it is deployed at scale. 

“For example, a website that enables patients to find information quickly, across any reading level, and enables them to understand what that information means for them is a responsible, strong and powerful use of AI. But, if there is a medical emergency and there's a critical need to get help, that might well require human intervention,” she says.

Not about being dazzled 

AI is not just the next phase in tech-enabling processes – it’s a gamechanger and gets deep into decision-making and processes. That’s why we must learn what it can do for us but, to do so, we must ask the right questions.

“We should give ourselves permission to ask all the wrong questions too,” says Dorfman. “There's no right or wrong. It's about chartering our way through these new territories. This is when brands should explore and uncover new opportunities. It’s all learning.” 

But she also recommends taking an empathetic approach – not just a machine-led approach – to the use of technology and data to create better experiences in healthcare marketing. “Cost savings are great – they are important in today's economic times – but if you do things just from that perspective it will show up in your return on objectives. And those objectives tend to last longer than questions about investment.”

After all, what we’re dealing with is about the use of technology and data, and an evolution of ways of working – not only generative AI for image and text replication. “This means that marketing can no longer just be about messaging; marketers also have to be analysts, data scientists, audience experts and so many other things,” she concludes. 

Get CMI's Future of Healthcare Report, here

Susan Dorfman

CMI Media

published on

08 March 2024


Technology & innovation

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