Walking through my kitchen a few weeks ago, my eyes were drawn to a report that was pinned to a corkboard my wife and I use to help keep our family organized. I looked closer and figured it was some sort of medical report. But, right away, I knew I didn’t fully understand what it said.

I asked my wife about the report, and she told me it was her thyroid function lab results. While she didn’t seem to understand the report either, she did explain that her doctor uses it to determine her medication levels. She has been managing thyroid disease for several years now.

Working in digital health media for quite some time, I find myself conflating family health concerns with a general interest in how certain topics are covered on the internet. So, I took to Google, confident but still curious as to what I might find.

What I found was mostly as I expected—articles from health publishers, not-for-profits, and medical institutions, all attempting to explain my wife’s already complicated lab report with dense jargon and overly wordy prose. I remember thinking how these articles were supposed to be written for everyday people, but, to me, read more like something out of a medical school textbook.

Taking Responsibility

In today’s “Google first” world, many digital health publishers claim to be the go-to source for accurate and “accessible” information. But, in reality, that is an incredibly low bar to clear. Health publishers are capable of so much more and should be held accountable.

At Verywell, our New Year’s resolution—or better yet our New Year’s responsibility—is to ensure that our users are actually learning about and internalizing the information on complex health topics that they consume. Simply exposing them to health information and letting them fend for themselves is reckless.

As health publishers we are answering extremely important questions for the general public, and doing so quite often. This alone emphasizes the importance of facilitating a deeper understanding of human health and well-being. Basically, more informed users lead to more efficient discussions with medical professionals which can only lead to better health outcomes.

Using Learning Styles to Influence Content

People learn differently, which needs to be considered when crafting reliable and actionable content, especially when it comes to health. Offering a variety of ways in which users can process the information they are looking for not only guarantees a good user experience but also promotes better information retention. People will listen and learn if you speak to them in a way they can best understand.

There are four commonly acknowledged methods of learning: Reading, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (i.e., experiential). While reading is clearly the most common learning style associated with online media, people have also found learning success with the other aforementioned styles or any combination of them. So, targeting all of these learning styles can prove to be a very effective strategy for getting your message across.

For example, publisher use of original illustrations, photographs, and GIFs is an ideal way to appeal to visual learners, while inline pronunciation of difficult terminology or animated explanatory videos appeal to those who respond more to auditory education. Even interactive 3D imaging allows users to visualize and explore different parts of the body in immersive ways, truly innovating on how users experience anatomical information first hand.

The key, however, is to use these elements in an additive way; they are not there to simply look nice and break up text. They should be included because the format fits the topic. And when placed in proper context, and directly associated to the intent of the user, they can be powerful tools to both enhance and propel learning.

Why Publishers and Marketers Should Care

Publishers rely on multiple stakeholders upon which the success of their business is often tied—users searching for and engaging with content, algorithms (such as Google) that surface content, and marketers who monetize the content. And, the publisher’s ability and responsibility to help users learn should help their prospects with each of these stakeholders.

With marketers specifically, reaching the right people, at the right time, with the right message, in proper context with a respectful ad experience, are all elements that drive ad performance. The efficacy of this contextual relevance is amplified when qualified users gain a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

  • Rob Parisi

    Rob Parisi is SVP & GM at Verywell Health. Rob has over 15 years of experience in digital media and has served in senior financial and operational positions with Dotdash and its predecessor companies since 2008. Prior to joining Dotdash, he held positions at WebMD Health and Arthur Andersen LLP. In 2016, he led the team responsible for conceptualizing and launching Verywell, which has since won several awards including best redesign.


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