Does Scientific Health Content Belong In Our Short-Attention-Span World?

Healthline Insider Q&A: A series of conversations with experts from the digital, health, and marketing industries. Why? Because different perspectives enrich us and make us smarter, stronger, and more aware.


Healthline Insider sat down for a conversation with Honor Whiteman, Managing Editor of Medical News Today, a consumer health information site that’s part of Healthline Media. This site has embraced a unique science-based approach to health content, which Honor believes has propelled it to the top 3 in the U.S. health information category, according to Comscore’s August report.

Is there really room for more scientific health information in this world of reduced attention spans? 

Definitely! Our consumer research has shown that while some consumers want health information that’s easy to digest, or want to be prescriptively guided through what to do, there’s another large and important segment of consumers that’s extremely critical of the information they read, wanting to know the science behind it so that they can create their own conclusions. This group revels in the research process, and will search exhaustively to find authoritative pieces of content that satisfy their needs and expectations. They gravitate towards .edu and .org sites, and science-heavy publishers like Medical News Today.

Paint us a picture of these scientifically oriented health information consumers.

These intellectually curious consumers are motivated by knowing as much as they can. They approach health content with an analytical eye, going so far as to be proud of their ability to evaluate the scientific evidence with their own critical thinking. Not only do they want to know the science behind health content, they also want to know: What sources have been used? Who conducted the scientific research? Was the study conducted in humans? And because they’re motivated by knowing, their mindset is one of always looking to further their knowledge.

These consumers are extremely active on social, asking questions about the research and offering their insights and opinions on the findings. They’re intolerant of inaccuracy, and not afraid to speak up if they spot an error. Recently, a reader commented on one of our news articles on Twitter, noting that we’d mistakenly referred to nociceptors as pain receptors. Upon our correcting this oversight, the reader took the time to respond, saying that it was a “refreshing experience” that a medical news website was taking such feedback on board.

What kinds of topics does this consumer want to read about?

When it comes to general health, this consumer is typically searching for the same health queries as you and I. The difference lies in how they want these queries answered. At Medical News Today, we’re finding that our readers want the facts, backed up by great sources. They don’t want the author’s opinion. They don’t want us instructing them what to do for their health. They want clear-cut information from trusted sources that they can use to make their own health decisions.

For example, on the topic of how to lose weight fast, this is how Medical News Today responds to this query differently from Healthline.

“How to naturally lose weight fast”“How to lose weight fast: 3 simple steps, backed by science”
  • Science first; followed by weight loss options
  • Third person voice
  • Let them come up with their own course of action
  • Step-by-step weight loss options; backed by science
  • First/second person voice
  • Provide recommendations for action

How have you modified your editorial approach to meet the needs of this consumer?

Rather than simplifying what we say and talking to this consumer in a 4th grade reading level, as many health sites do, we interact with them as intellectual peers.

1. First and foremost, we ensure that all articles are created using reputable sources and research from peer-reviewed medical studies, and our clinical content is reviewed by medical specialists.

2. We make sure to include scientific information and scientific terms in our content, and answer the reader’s credibility questions immediately.

3. We definitely address popular health trends and fads, but we’re unique in that we give them a scientific point of view, debunking fads when warranted.

4. We’re also using readers’ feedback as inspiration for new content. One example of this is our article on whether studies in mice are relevant to human health. Our research editor wrote this article following a recently trending social campaign for medical news sites to clearly state when a study has been conducted in animals (#inmice).

How can advertisers and brands resonate with this audience? 

It starts with recognizing that this audience exists, and acknowledging that these consumers approach health content and brand advertising differently, and with a healthy, knowledgeable level of skepticism. So, to connect with this audience, transparency (and a shared skepticism) is key. Advertisers and brands can resonate by creating or associating with hard-core and trustworthy health information, and by being clear about the facts surrounding their brand from the outset.

We currently see more than 70 million of these users each month (Google Analytics), and believe that this number will continue to grow. While all health audiences are raising the bar on health information, this scientifically curious audience will push even further. And as these critical thinkers expand in intelligence, they’ll want us to expand with them, and continue to give them the clear-cut facts that are backed up by scientific evidence.

If you’re interested in connecting with these readers to drive deeper, scientific-forward connections with your brands, email us at corpmarketing@healthline.com.

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