Huff & Puff asthma app 575 x 420

I am pleased to welcome Tim Jones, CEO of Health Nuts Media, as a guest poster on today’s TDWI. Tim is an Emmy-award winning producer with a passion for improving health via the development of really engaging patient education apps – His first app, Huff & Puff is wonderful app in development that has videos, games, and other fun ways of passing on vital information about pediatric asthma to kids and their parents. You can learn more about Tim’s app here. Pat

Guest post by Tim Jones, CEO of Health Nuts Media

“You keep on using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”
— Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride.”

Mandy Pankatin as Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride.”

Did you ever see the movie “The Princess Bride”?  You know the part where Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) says “Inconceivable!” for about the third time in two minutes and Mandy Patinkin turns to him and says “You keep on using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Patient engagement

The term “patient engagement” is getting a lot of buzz these days, but I think there is a similar disconnect between the healthcare industry and the consumer when it comes to this term. The word “engagement” means something entirely different to the average person than it means to the healthcare industry, and sooner or later the consumer is going to turn and say “you keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  And therein lies a fundamental problem that the healthcare industry will need to deal with sooner or later. If we really want to engage our patients – what Webster’s defines as “to attract and hold the attention of; engross:” — then healthcare needs stop trying to redefine the word and start learning more about what engages people in the real world.

Imagine for a minute that laughter really was the best medicine, and all the healthcare industry needed to do to treat and prevent illness was to tell really funny jokes.  How would the healthcare industry respond?  What I fear would happen is that we’d convene panels to for a longitudinal study and then set forth a framework by which to render the statistically most humorous jokes. There would be experts and literature reviews and random control trials and conferences. There would be best practice guidelines and measurement standards, and meticulous peer-reviewed articles dissecting which humorous elements, in which specific quantity and order would result in the optimum delivery of levity. And of course this would take years and years and by the time the results were published and widespread adoption could take place, the real world had moved on, tastes had changed, and the jokes would be stale and a generation too late. And we’d have a warehouse full of joke pamphlets, written at a 5th grade reading level in 15 languages, that would not amuse anyone.

Patients want a great user experience

Today’s consumer has an amazing array of options.  Whether paying bills, making travel arrangements, accessing entertainment, or seeking health information people want – nay DEMAND – a great user experience.  Fail to deliver, and they’ll find an alternative.  Like it or not, people today are not getting health information ONLY from their doctor.  A recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study found that 88% of American adults with Internet access research health information online, and 60% say internet info influenced a decision about how to manage a condition.  In the real world, people use social networks, mobile apps, YouTube videos, and Google to get health information. Your consumers know what engages them, so don’t pretend you can tell them otherwise.  You can choose to engage them in these channels or not, but you don’t get to redefine the word “engagement” to mean something that it really doesn’t.

It is tempting to argue that “healthcare is not like other industries” and that “the same rules do not apply.” To that I would answer: “Inconceivable!” Healthcare has to communicate effectively with its consumers just like every other industry. If you fail to engage your patients, they will find someone who will. So instead of blaming patients for being disinterested and misinformed, become part of the solution by reaching them in ways that are effective and meaningful. In other words engage them.

Health Nuts Media wants to become the “Sesame Street of Health” – yahoo!


  1. Tim, I love this article! And I love using the term, patient engagement, as opposed to health literacy. I teach cooking classes as a way to engage youth and adults with becoming more active in their own healthcare. It is an opportunity for them to ask questions about food and how it can harm or hurt them. It is wonderful to see the little ones engaged in chopping up their vegetables and then actually eating them because they played a role in preparing them.

    Prior to teaching cooking classes, I taught basic literacy and ESL to adults. Health literacy played a small role in the classes, usually limited to understanding boring pamphlets and websites. However limiting health literacy to only adults with limited reading skills is an incomplete effort. Aside from teaching cooking, I write a website that focuses on women’s reproductive health. Most of the women who come to my site are very well educated and still are experiencing a deep disconnect between their doctor and their health. I get emails almost daily from women who are elated to find support in my website and many other health practitioners who are not doctors.

    So bravo on your work!

  2. Thank you so much for this perspective, Tim. Love your “inconceivable” analogy. Now I can’t get that swash-buckling Mandy Patinkin image out of my head. Thanks a lot . . . I wrote similar observations recently in “Has Industry Co-Opted Patient Engagement?” –

    You wrote: “Healthcare needs to … start learning more about what engages people in the real world.” Or, as we used to say during my 30+ years in the public relations field, “Start thinking like your target audience!” I’d now add to this: start LISTENING to your target audience so you know what the heck they actually need and want and will use.

    When I attended the Medicine X conference at Stanford University a couple months ago, I met dozens of young enthusiastic tech-savvy folks (all launching health care startups – and does everybody in Palo Alto have a startup?) Yet so many of the ideas they were flogging seemed to have little if any practical relevance to the lives of real live patients like me, despite all the contagious Next Big Thing hype. We know, for example, that only 5% of health care apps are still in use 30 days after downloading – wouldn’t that be a good reality to revisit before the hype-meisters throw any more time and energy into yet another health app for patients?


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