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Episode 09: Improving Patient Experience and Content Storytelling in the Age of AI

Hosted by Aaron Burnett with Special Guest David Patton

Explore the impact of AI on healthcare information delivery, the challenges and opportunities presented by Google’s AI Overviews in search results, and the implications of HIPAA guidelines for digital marketing in healthcare with David Patton, Senior Director of Content Strategy at Fred Hutch Cancer Center. Patton brings attention to creating high-quality, expert-driven content to stand out in the AI age, while discussing how healthcare organizations can leverage AI to improve patient experiences and maintain compliance and ethical standards. This jam-packed episode also touches on the future of content creation, the balance between utilizing various media formats for consumption, and the potential for AI to enhance patient care and information accessibility.

David Patton’s Content Strategy Experience

Aaron: Welcome to Digital Clinic, the podcast that goes deep on critical digital marketing trends, strategies, and tactics for the healthcare and medical device industries. Each episode brings you expert guests sharing the knowledge, insights, and advice that healthcare marketers need to be successful in this complex and rapidly evolving digital landscape. I’m Aaron Burnett, CEO of Wheelhouse Digital Marketing Group, and with me today is David Patton, Senior Director of Content Strategy at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.  

Aaron: David, thanks very much for being with me.  

David: I’m very excited to be here.  

Aaron: You’re Senior Director of Content Strategy at Fred Hutch, but prior to that you were a couple of very interesting places you were 15 years at the Wall Street Journal, and another five with Vulcan? 

David: Yep, and then five with what is now WE Communications, and that’s what was, at the time, Waggener Edstrom. That’s why I came from New York to Seattle, to leave journalism and come into the agency and marketing and PR world. 

Aaron: While at the Wall Street Journal, you were really at the cutting edge of a lot of digital media and some digital marketing as well. Podcasting in the 2000s, Yes, in the aughts, as they say, blogging, using audience insights and metrics to drive editorial decisions and audience engagement. Can you tell me a little bit about that career arc and how that informs how you think about content strategy today? 

David: Yeah, I started right after the Wall Street Journal online launched, like maybe six or eight months after they went live. I had already been with Dow Jones on another project. So very early, I like to say I was basically digital media, right from the get go at that time. I had a nice job in that was in the newsroom, and I got to do a lot of different things, and I was just very naturally curious about how things work. If you think about this time, it was so early. We were still dominated by print. Everything was kind of new. I had a role, and I had some leeway to experiment with different things, so search optimization, early in there, and social media. I was like, “Oh, wait, hold on. We can create free distribution models for our content. Yes. Sign me up,” like I was the first person who was like, create a Twitter account, create a Facebook account. This is fantastic for us.

Then the next piece was the analytics piece, which early on, we were not really looking at the analytics and even wouldn’t share the information with the writers and the reporters because we didn’t want them to know how, I guess at the time, we perceived it to be, small the numbers were. I was one of the first folks because I was curious and it was part of my job to really look at that data and be able to say, “This performs better than that. What are the things that we can do to get a little bit more out of there?” I would put a little additional context at the journal experience in that if you remember, it was the first paid news outlet and never wasn’t paid. A lot of the things that I was doing, you had flexibility because it wasn’t absolutely core to the business model. Because we were subscription based, and it was fairly expensive – I think it was $100 a year 15 or 20 years ago, maybe more than that – we were looking for ways to compete with the non-paid folks, but it wasn’t necessarily something where we had a whole squad of people trying to figure out a lot of different things related to building audience or getting folks in. 

Aaron: So how has that experience informed your approach to content strategy at Fred Hutch? 

David: If you think about the late aughts, social media websites were, at that point, in their second or third generations, the traditional media was declining or at least not as guaranteed a method for marketing and communications that it had been, and so everyone was becoming a publisher. Specifically, I came out here because Microsoft took their press site and turned it into a storytelling and media site where they were going directly to their customers, rather than just feeding information to reporters. My specialty was basically operationalizing their storytelling, so they brought me in. My benefit, in my experience, was helping create content on a daily basis, optimizing it for the digital platform, and helping it get out to the various audiences. When I think about the transition over the last 15 years that I’ve been out here in the West, it really is continuing to turn that dial on better storytelling, more efficient content creation, thinking more about audiences and how you reach them using your digital channels, which is still relatively new for most organizations, particularly in healthcare. A website 20 years ago, it was just like a basic flat page. Maybe you had a button to make an appointment, but it was not a full information site. Now almost every one is because it’s a very clear path to get patients or whatever business model you’re chasing.  

Aaron: What are some of the key initiatives or strategic shifts that you’ve been able to make at Fred Hutch? 

David: Fred Hutch actually was way ahead in that they built this really incredible content marketing engine 10 years ago, well before I got there. They built something called Fred Hutch News. It was designed as a kind of mimic Kaiser Health News, which is a not-for-profit solution to the declining health care information that was out there and the regular media, so they built Fred Hutch News. They did it for about four or five years, and they weren’t really sure of the value. They had fantastic writers and content, but they didn’t have a great distribution model. The appeal to me when they came to me was, “I have this thing. We’re keeping it going, but we’re not entirely sure if it’s exactly what it needs to be doing.” For me, I was like, “Great, you did the hard thing. You build the engine that created the content. I can just come in and show how valuable it is to the business and tweak some things to make the distribution bit better.” I didn’t have to come in and build an entire content engine, it was already running, so I got to just sort of tune it, and also illustrate I was like, “Look, 60-70% of the web traffic is coming in through these news articles.” So, it’s really keep doing that thing, but then also how do we align it more with the kind of things we want to do as an organization and our goals? 

Content Strategy with AI Overviews

Aaron: Let’s kind of shift and talk about the thing that’s in the zeitgeist over the last three or four weeks. The nonpolitical thing from the last three to four weeks. So, AI. Google has rolled out their search generative experience and called it AI Overviews. Now we’re seeing it rolled out to everyone in North America. We’re definitely seeing the presence in search results for our clients. We’re seeing it in search results for Fred Hutch, in fact, the last analysis that we did showed that about 61% of the queries associated with Fred Hutch are triggering AI Overviews.  

David: Oh, really? That’s a lot. I didn’t even know that.  

Aaron: Yeah. Well, I think that speaks to how much of the content is storytelling content. What we see is AI Overviews are being served for informational queries. “What is,” and “How do I,” and you have so much of that content. On the one hand, we’re seeing a tremendous presence and upwelling of AI Overviews. On the other hand, we’re not actually seeing a shift in search position, in search ranking, which is interesting. As you think about AI Overviews, and you think of your content strategy, what’s your perspective? What’s your reaction? 

David: I mean, it’s a challenge if you’re chasing traditional search engine optimization because the links are going away, maybe, at some point. I look at it as an opportunity in two ways. One is those references, the very early versions had no links, it was just text. Right away, everybody was like, this is terrible because we have no idea where the information is coming from, including those who were serving it up. They didn’t even know where this information was coming from. Now, you’ve got two or three links at the base of those explanations that are coming out of that. One opportunity we’ve already actually seen, I will call it an experiment. It was a little bit of luck, where we created some content based on what everybody was talking about related to weight loss drugs and cancer, and that now is in some of the results as the first or second link in that. There’s the opportunity there in that you want to kind of get into that reference point for the generative responses.

Then the second thing is, the one thing that AI does really well is it serves up really clean content. It’s optimized for how people are reading now – short couple sentences, bullet point, bullet point, bullet point, and maybe a little bolding. From our point of view, we want to go back and improve the things that are on our websites so that they show up better in that AI piece because that’s also what I think audiences are going to start to expect in the next two or three years. We want it to be as clean and tidy as this blob of text that’s coming out, and so how do you go back to your own site, which often is many years of content kind of squeezed into that and start to clean it out, knowing that it’s going to get served up in that way in the future?  

Aaron: You’ve done some experimentation already and you’ve seen success. What tactics did you use in structuring that content so that it was integrated?  

David: We didn’t do anything special in terms of structuring that particular content, other than knowing that this was a topic that people were thinking about. It’s in the zeitgeist. Everybody’s thinking about these new weight loss drugs, Ozempic and others, and obviously, there’s potential impacts to cancer patients because obesity and negative health outcomes are related. It was more about putting our expertise out there, talking to our own folks in here to say, “How is this impacting how people are looking for cancer treatment or maybe some of their care?” We use the same tools that we have from our own optimization of the news articles, put that out there, and then it just showed up.  

Aaron: Well as a domain, you already have such a strong foundation of EEAT signals. So much of your content is created by credentialed medical professionals, that it gives you tremendous authority.  

David: We have folks drawing out those stories from those professionals, and we’re in Google News. We qualify as a news source, so that adds additional authority to our domain.  

Impact of AI on Healthcare Information

Aaron: The implications of AI for sources of information for healthcare are profound, particularly for an organization like Fred Hutch, where people are coming not just seeking narrative information, they’re looking for information on cancer treatment, experiments that may be viable for them, diagnosis symptoms, really critical information. How do you think about AI in that sort of a context? Is there anything that you’re thinking about or wanting to do to protect the sanctity of that information and the accuracy of that information? 

David: I mean, improve our own information and our own website is the first place that I think about from an AI standpoint, and to your point. Cancer is unusual. I’ve been thinking about this because I have a freshman in college, and you think about the college experience, you know it’s coming for years. You’re kind of gearing up for this whole thing, you’re learning a bit more, you’re learning a bit more, you’re learning a bit more, and then it happens. Cancer, it’s like one day something funny happens, someone tells you something and then bam. Your ramp to knowledge needs to be super high. When we look at some of the information we have from cancer patients’ experiences, they are overwhelmed. From an AI standpoint, how can we improve our information, but then also parse it out in a way, possibly through AI, but also through our own website, so that people can go on that journey in a way that they can kind of handle?

This is where you get into the interesting angle of healthcare, which has not necessarily been really good at these things. They haven’t even really thought of the web as a useful tool for patients. It’s sort of that classic, “Don’t go to Dr. Google.” Increasingly, you’re really not going to have the option to say no to that. How do you ensure that people are going to get the best information? Our role is not just for our existing patients or potential patients, but it’s also how do we feed the AI machines with that best information and sadly, compete with a lot of organizations out there that are not doing it for the best possible reasons? That’s the challenge for us and for anyone who’s in the healthcare or the cancer space. We’ve got to up our game to understand what’s happening with the AI, so that we don’t let the folks who are optimizers take over. I think that’s going to be tough. It’s a lot of work for us and for others in that time period, 

Aaron: It sounds like your overall posture is one of embracing AI as a new channel, a new avenue, to communicate more clearly with folks, rather than defensive posture.  

David: Oh, for sure. I mean, there’s two answers to this question. My personal answer which is, it’s coming you better do something about it. Usually organizationally, it’s always going to be a little bit slower, but we’re in a good position for all the things you just talked about, in that we’re kind of ahead in sort of the normal web content, how do people consume information? Adding AI as a potential distribution channel and considering it in the cancer patients’ journey is something that’s just an additional piece, not something we need to defend against. Then the flip side, AI will help us unlock, in cancer research and for patients, all kinds of new things. It is potentially a huge accelerator of better understanding what’s happening in our bodies that leads to cancer, when the cancer is happening, so we can’t embrace it just for the sort of backend research and then ignore it in the patient experience part. 

Aaron: In terms of backend research, I’ve seen narrative accounts of studies that seem not quite formal, not the sort you’d be able to publish in a medical journal, but some studies that have compared the efficacy of AI in a diagnostic context. Looking at imaging, for example, and diagnosing early indications of cancer versus human physicians doing the same thing, and it’s been really interesting and exciting that in some instances, AI can detect much earlier than a human can, with much greater consistency, 

David: Definitely for that and for the imaging, also for more blood tests out there as well. The real challenge for a lot of these things is, “When is too early?” That’s actually the question. Interestingly, I was talking to one of our researchers, and to confirm that these tests, this new AI systems are working, you have to use the traditional methods to make sure that they’re working. It’s going to be a slower path to a broad acceptance because you have to make sure that it’s going to be accurate every time. You don’t want to just turn it on and go in those particular scenarios.   

Aaron: On the encouraging side of the ledger, you shared an article that was in PubMed that compared the accuracy of the National Cancer Institute and ChatGPT in answering questions about common myths related to cancer I was surprised and heartened to see the ChatGPT had about 97% accuracy. 

David: Yeah, it was really positive. That was from a radiologist at Huntsman Cancer Center in Utah, Skyler Johnson. He did some research, and he’s also a misinformation expert. They were testing that out, the sort of common questions that people ask related to cancer. That is encouraging. 97 is great because – and I was listening to some of the other things you folks have talked about on this podcast – typically Google and other search index folks have been very careful with healthcare information because they know that there’s potential harm out there. So, you have to imagine they’re tuning in on things like NCI, Cancer.gov, Cancer.net, which are really high-quality pieces of information. I actually was running a test this morning looking at autism and vaccines, which is a huge center of misinformation. There was terrible research, bad things, but if you look at the connections between those things and a lot of the common generative AI platforms, you can tell they’ve been extremely careful to answer that question as accurately as possible, acknowledging perhaps that there was some controversy in the past, but that there is no connection between those two things. To that same point, you’re going to see a lot of that carefulness go into a lot of this information, which I think is fantastic. Going to the point I made earlier about how great the formatting is of the answers. If this is easier for people to digest really complicated information, that’s great because cancer is really complicated.  

AI Overviews and Fair Use

Aaron: It’s pretty clear that so much groundwork already has been laid over the years by Google, in particular, around these kinds of queries and topics with focus on YMYL queries and EEAT signals that really form a nexus around healthcare and medical information. Let’s shift back. From your perspective, your journalistic perspective, I’m interested in how you feel about AI Overviews with regard to fair use. Search engines rely on fair use doctrine to justify the existence of their businesses. The notion behind fair use is that you are representing someone’s work in a manner that is fair and beneficial to the original source. I think it’s an open question as to whether an AI Overview actually is going to be beneficial to the original source. It will be beneficial to those that end up in the top three tiles. It may be beneficial in the future if you advertise in the context of an AI Overview and you get some commercial outcome. If people begin to rely on AI Overviews as the source of information, that canonical source, and they don’t do any more research, you are robbing the original sources of their traffic.  

David: Yes, and I’ve been in the media business long enough that I remember the times when initially with Google there was like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re stealing our eyeballs.” Then they started to realize, the media platforms and the media companies, “Oh this is actually beneficial as a whole new distribution model for us at a time when our traditional distribution models, print or whatever, we’re declining.” One, you’re seeing a lot of the big media companies, my former employer, Dow Jones, as well, cutting deals with the AI companies where they’re licensing the content, paying them some amount of money. There’s an acknowledgement I think, from the AI companies that yes, maybe it isn’t true, fair use. As soon as you put a dollar sign on it, it’s not there. I think it does open these platforms up. I mean, you’re essentially a media company, and there’s rules and regulations in there. They’re not always the clearest thing. I’ve been looking at them and thinking, in some cases, let me take this to the absolute level. Why do I even need a website anymore? Why can’t I just put all my things in a chat bot, and you could ask it, and then we’ll just pull out that information and display it on your piece. If I do that for my organization, how is that any different than basically creating a media organization in the same way, if that makes sense? You’re just displaying the information. You’re creating it ad hoc, but you’re basically functioning as a publisher in that particular area.

I remember years ago, I think it was Sequoia Capital, eliminated their entire website and just put a search box. You could search, and it would sort of have all the traditional things you experience now where it kind of predicts what you’re going to say, but it would give you an overview of all the things that they were doing because their whole purpose was like, we don’t need a fancy template. We don’t need all these things. People can just search and find the information that they need and then it would display. Are the generative AI answers media? Yes. To your point, if they start serving up advertising, how is it different from a media organization? Then it gets really interesting. I’m not a lawyer, but it does feel like we’re definitely blurring the lines.  

Aaron: Yeah, I agree. Well, and Google already is in legal crosshairs for some of their behavior. This, I would, think only exacerbates that attention. 

David: The flip side of this is the media organizations themselves are, I mean, they’re tiny now compared to what they were 20 or 30 years ago, so I’m not sure if it’s going to be like a huge battle, but it definitely opens up some conversations. I think about people’s information and how they get it, and what regulations they’re subjected to.

Evolving Privacy Regulations for Healthcare 

Aaron: Well, let’s shift gears and talk about privacy regulations. In November of 2022, the OCR at HHS came out with new guidance related to the application of HIPAA, the extent to which HIPAA now covers visitors to websites and the implications of HIPAA for digital tracking technologies. I know you’re very, very familiar.  

David: Now I am.  

Aaron: What is your perspective on those privacy regulations, the implications for Fred Hutch and for healthcare overall? 

David: For Fred Hutch, we need to adhere to the guidelines, and six months after that decision, our privacy and legal folks came to the marketing communications team that opened the website and said, “This is an area of concern. How are we currently doing this?” We said, “Well, we’re doing it in the way that we’ve always done it.” We all determined that that was probably not going to be the right way going forward. To your point, we’ve been on a journey since that time to come up with the correct solution that does this. I mean, again, I’m no expert on this, but the good thing is nobody else is an expert. It’s definitely part of an overall trend, whether it’s Google getting rid of cookies, all these other things where organizations need to be smarter about how they’re collecting information from their users. In our case, some of them are patients. Having all of that aligned in the right way seems incredibly smart. Yeah, it takes some work out at the outset, but it’s not that much work.

From my perspective, and again, not an expert, and only have become moderately more so in the last year, and listening to one of your colleagues recently, healthcare is actually a little bit ahead of everyone else in this particular area because we’ve had to adhere to these things. I think it’s all going in that direction anyway. It’s nice to be ahead for a change. I think it’ll be great for users in the end result. I would also say, I’ve a larger perspective to this, when you think about Google and Facebook and things like that, why have we always assumed that this was free? We’ve always been paying for this in one way or another, and I think adding these new sets of privacy pieces and other ways of, for lack of a better word, monetizing in a more transparent fashion, I think will be better all around for consumers because they’ll understand better the tradeoff that they’re getting for using something that they may have perceived to be free but in fact, was being monetized. It’s interesting because I’ve been on the internet for a long time and the whole tension between what should be free and what isn’t has always been an interesting discussion. Definitely in the last 10 years, the question is like, “Okay, you have these incredibly useful tools you’re using over and over again, many times a day, whether it be search, whether it be social media, it was never really free, right?” But, it felt like it and so now we’re getting a little bit more sophisticated about what you’re paying to do these things, and I think much like with the OCR guidelines, it’s just more about being clever or being smart and transparent about how you’re explaining what’s going on.  

Aaron: The thing that I’ve heard often repeated is that if you’re in a context where it feels like you’re getting something that’s free and really shouldn’t be, you’re probably the product, and that’s certainly been the case. I think that you’re right in that the use of third-party tracking, third-party platforms felt free, gave us a lot of what felt like rich information, I think didn’t always give us information that was highly accurate or objective because each of the platforms, to a greater or lesser extent, biases toward their own self-interest in the information that they give us. So yes, it was very easy to define and target audiences through third-party platforms. Those may have been fairly generous audience definitions that lead to a productive outcome at the end, but maybe didn’t do so efficiently. 

David: I would also say, coming from the early days of social media, when you as a brand could use it for free and reach your audiences, that has completely changed. The cost of using search ads and social media platforms is much, much higher than it was five or 10 years ago. It’s no longer sort of like, “Oh, we’ll just hang this on there.” We really need to be thoughtful about how we’re spending our money here and being more accurate about what we’re getting out of it, I think. It’s driving people to look for better ways of doing it, rather than just, “We’ll sign up, we’ll run the ads on there, it’s going to be cheap and efficient, and we’ll go on.” It’s not as cheap and efficient as it used to be. 

Aaron: What have been some of the implications for Fred Hutch with regard to marketing in this privacy first paradigm? 

David: We’re very small in marketing because cancer is not a thing you do a lot of marketing around. It’s death, and we’re also a relatively new integrated organization in that only two years ago did we integrate care and research. Old Fred Hutch was just a research organization that did some communications and marketing, fairly limited. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance was the care part. They did a little bit more patient marketing, very much about awareness, so that folks in the region knew that they had this care available to them. For us, all these things are coming together at the same time – the integration of the organization, the integration of two websites, the rethinking how we’re marketing ourselves as a larger, clearer differentiated brand in the area. It’s driving us to be more thoughtful about how we approach these things. Also, this goes to the integration piece, really looking at ourselves as a place that provides this care and making sure that it’s clear, to the folks who need to come here or should be coming here, what we’re offering and getting to them in the safest and smartest fashion. We weren’t spending gajillions of dollars doing lots of clever targeted marketing, but now because of where we’re at, we’re actually doing much smarter thinking about our marketing, and it’s really driving us to be efficient in what we’re doing. It’s been, I think, really beneficial to have those kind of forcing functions. It’s forced creativity, and the right thing for us.  

Aaron: I know you have been at the center of identifying potential solutions to achieve HIPAA compliance from an analytics and data perspective. How did you consider identification and selection of a solution, and how should others think about that as they’re doing the same?  

David: I’ve been to a couple of conferences in the last eight weeks and had various conversations with folks, and it’s really interesting. Some people were like, “I literally have no idea that this is even happening,” and then other folks who are very far along. I think it really depends on how much money you’re spending on marketing and specifically, advertising or any kind of distribution piece. If you’re doing a lot of that, then you want to get active in putting in a platform that’s not only going to make sure that you’re HIPAA-compliant, but that you preserve the way to track the efficacy of your marketing. If you’re not spending a lot of money on marketing, you could just cut off the third-party folks, you’re definitely going to be flying a little blind, but you may not have a massive impact in the efficacy of what you’re doing, whether it be the efficacy of your website or the efficacy of your paid advertising. For us, we’re kind of in the middle. I think because of who we are, as an organization, we want it to be extremely proactive and kind of get ahead as fast as possible. Once we’re fully compliant, in the next days, I think we’ll be ahead of a lot of other organizations, which is great. It was really just, “Let’s make sure we’re doing this the best possible way.” Tracking the efficacy of our marketing is important but not crucial, and we want to make sure that we’re ahead of where the market is going and we can kind of grow from there. 

Performance Data in Healthcare Marketing

Aaron: As you move toward HIPAA compliance, there’s an implication for the data that is available to you, performance data that’s valuable, even as you look at the efficacy of the content that you’re producing. How are you approaching aggregating and evaluating and analyzing performance data? 

David: We’re looking at making sure that the experience that our actual patients or potential patients are having on our website and through our channels is the best possible one because of who they are. For us, looking at the data is going to be much more important to making sure we’re getting people to the thing that they need as fast as possible. Because of the complexity of both our organization and of cancer, I think we’re going to dig into the data in a way that is more about optimizing the platforms that we have, versus looking at who do we target differently with our marketing, if that makes sense? At least initially, I don’t think it’s going to be a deep look at, “Hey, here’s who our folks are, and here’s how we grow.” It’s more about how do we make sure that the folks who are getting here are getting the thing done as quickly as possible? Partly because, again, we’re still on the kind of optimization path of the two organizations and so that’s sort of the priority for us.  

Aaron: That makes sense, and I think that’s a sophisticated and nuanced way to think about this as well. One of the things that I’m surprised that I continue to see people conflating is that collecting and maintaining full-fidelity data on people who visit your website is still entirely allowed. You can have a high degree of granularity related to user behavior on your site. It’s in the sharing that you encounter risk. If you are focused, if you have a data warehouse or some other facility that allows you to aggregate and evaluate that information, then that’s to your benefit. I think optimizing for that on-site experience is very smart.  

Daivd: You look at the tools that we’ve had, whether it be Google Analytics or Facebook performance marketing, that those services were free, but losing them in some ways is not a terrible thing, or at least having that first-party data, I think, opens up those opportunities that maybe we didn’t have before because we basically had a free thing that we kind of knew was there, but we weren’t entirely sure how valuable it was to us. To your point, now that it’s first-party data, that it is a direct relationship, protected with our users. I think there’s both a understanding of the value and how do we use it most efficiently to improve that experience for folks. I mean, one thing I would talk a little bit about is content creation. Going to the AI question, some people are very concerned that content creators – content creators is a broad term, journalism, let’s even call it journalism – they’re drawing out information on complex topics and making it presentable to people. This is going to be hugely challenged because this is what AI is really good at. You feed it into the machine, it kind of spits it out in a coherent fashion. I think the opportunity really is that a lot of information is still not easily accessible and not strung together even in a way that an AI can understand.

When I think about our resources and what we are going to look to do over the next 18 to 24 months in the face of AI, in the opportunity with reaching patients directly who are in this interesting time in their lives, we’re really geared up towards drawing out that information from our own experts and putting it in a place, website probably, that is going to be accessible to patients but also to the AI. That’s something that the AI is never going to be able to do. They’re never going to be able to sit down with a researcher and ask them 10 or 15 questions over the course of an hour to really figure out what this really specific, specific and complicated research is or talk to a clinician who has decades of experience treating cancer and kind of draw out the insights from that. I think from a creation standpoint, it’s really important to still have those skills in-house or at least have someone that you’re working with, more so than ever because my concern is that the bad people will be out there kind of generating this terrible content very, very quickly and efficiently that may or may not be accurate. It’s almost time to double down in your creation to make sure that you are drawing out your expertise and putting it in a in a place or presenting it in such a way that you’re optimizing for all of these new distribution methods.  

Aaron: Yeah, I think that’s 100% right. The thing that I think won’t be supplanted, can’t be supplanted by AI, at least in the near term, is expertise and creativity. If you focus on those things, not commoditization of content or anything else, then you should fair fairly well.  

David: From a marketing resource standpoint, that’s the place to really ramp up over the next couple of years. Again, whether it’s in-house or otherwise, you really need to be able to turn the expertise, the storytelling or the reporting or the journalism expertise, on your own organization right now, if you haven’t done it yet, or optimize what you have. Otherwise, it’s sort of going to be optimized for you before you’re ready. Drawing that out, I think, is going to be a big focus.  

Content Creation in the AI Era

Aaron: Do you begin to think of different types of content creation now too, the face of AI? You have a great deal of text content. Do you start to think about audio content and video content as much more important?  

David: It’s the efficiency of all. For us, we usually focus on new research that comes out or maybe it’s a new treatment or a new service. You want to basically sit down and draw out all that information, both through text and video and audio all at the same time. You’re drawing it out, and then presenting it in a kind of like a campaign all packaged together. You may have a text page that has a video embedded and then there’s a short audio presentation, whether it be a podcast or something else, that’s distributed in another way. I think that efficiency then hits the audience in all of the different ways they may consume it, even this conversation right. Some people are going to be watching the video, some people will be listening to it, some people, as I have done, may turn it into text and read it because that’s your preference on how you get that information. If you want to reach the most people, you need to figure out the most efficient way to draw it out, get it out there, and let people get it the way they want to get it. I think that’ll be helpful from the AI standpoint as well.  

Aaron: Do you have a sense for content consumption habits for visitors to Fred Hutch? Is there an overwhelming preference for text? Do you find that video performs much better? I think about the psychology of people who are looking for information on care and what might be easiest to consume.  

David: It’s still very text based. I think the promise of video, or the opportunity with video, is reaching people in different platforms. You’re going to see them on YouTube or TikTok or Instagram. They’re never going to consume text there. We can use the visual aspects of it to drop people into the deeper storytelling that’s probably going to be text. But for other things, it really depends on what it is, where the story lends itself best to the particular format. There are just some things that work better on video, and other things work better on text. This is one of the advantages, I think, of the moment we’re in. You can create from a video, text, and audio all at the same time. It’s all being created and even parse it up in different ways, so that you’re reaching people in that way. That’s the thing that I think is going to be the interesting piece over the next couple of years.

I also think that that’s true of meetings. Now we’re almost all virtual, so how are we recording these? How are we taking notes on them? How are we storing that information so that we can all remember the thing that we did? If you think about that, we’re talking about this in the corporate setting, but between a patient and doctor, could you record this? You could have instant text and memory kind of built into this piece. I think these are the other aspects of AI that I think are really interesting in that we’ve offloaded a portion of our brains onto our devices. We’re in the transition time where we have to remember where the things are, and this is where AI is going to be really useful in helping you re-access this information that you drew in some how, processed, and put someplace, and then you can bring it back up without having to remember “Oh, I need to type it in and go to the site,” or all that kind of thing. It’ll be much more instant.  

Aaron: Yeah, that’s interesting to consider. I mean, we use an AI system to transcribe all of our internal meetings. We don’t do it with clients. But in our internal meetings, we get really high-fidelity notes, and all the action items summarized, again with a high degree of accuracy at the end. If you join a meeting, and you’re 15 minutes late, you can ask the AI, “Was my name mentioned? Has anything been assigned? Summarize the meeting so far for me.” I guess envision that in a clinical setting. Summarize the session. I know, if my wife goes to the doctor, if it’s a stressful situation, she will tend not to remember all of the details. If she can refer back to all of the details summarized and reflect on that later, that would be fantastic.  

David: Especially with cancer, which is often a multi-month, multi-week, multi-year experience. Getting that organized using AI, multiple trips, multiple doctors, all those kinds of things. We’ve only just begun to go down that road because the AI is still pretty rudimentary, but building that into the care experience? One fantastic for equity. Basically everybody gets the healthcare assistant concierge. That could be fantastic. Whereas now, maybe that’s not available to everyone. When I get most excited about AI, it’s less about the marketing, and it’s really about how are we unlocking all of this information? Making these complicated things much easier for people using tools that are ultimately fairly inexpensive. That’s the thing I get excited about. I’m the product of two librarians. I’m just always passionate about the information that’s out there that you can then access right. At a library, you used to be able to go and just pull whatever book you needed. Now you’re going to be able to do this in seconds. I think it’s going to be a fantastic time, maybe there’s some bumps over the next couple of years, but eventually, really lead to much better experiences for folks and better outcomes.  

Aaron: Yeah, I think that’s true. I hope it’s true. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.  

David: Same, thank you.  

Aaron: Yeah, it’s been good. 

Questions or Comments

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