You would be amazed, says Ellen Fields, the Managing Director of DDB Remedy, a new healthcare unit at DDB, you could have a doctor and a patient in an office. And you could pull them out separately and you could say to the doctor “What did you say to the patient?” And then you ask the patient “What did the doctor tell you?” and it’s like two different conversations.”

Health and wellness has never been more significant economically, socially and culturally, yet it means many different things to many different people: food, medication, exercise, aging, spiritual well-being, sustainability. From new drugs and treatments, to fitness regimes, health and wellness governs every aspect of our lives.

And then there’s the internet, the biggest game- changer of all when it comes to the central doctor- patient relationship. This internet, as a source of health information, a source of data and myths and rumour, the place for succour and support groups whether it’s the ill and unwell sharing their experiences, or a venue for the fit looking to boost and extend exercise programs.

The internet is a big factor in why there are so many different perspectives on health and wellness. There is a wealth of information out there from professionals, experts of every stripe, and passionate enthusiasts. You want one sure-fire way to get fit? Here’s a hundred.

Look at all the perspectives in this advert for Brasil Sul fitness company, an image broken down into multiple viewpoints, the runner, making up the picture as she goes along:

Note, this is one of the big trends in health and wellness, you travel your own journey, you take what you need and make your own program.

This philosophy, of interested consumers intuitively piecing together their own health and wellness regimes, practices and goals is flagged up by Shelley Balanko, Vice President of Ethnographic Research at the Hartmann Research group, in Pilates and Pizza, our section on consumer attitudes.

“There are many different conversations around health and wellness, and these are happening for many reasons, not least because everyone has different ideas of what health and wellness is”

Science and research is still a story of heroes, of men and women whose commitment to their discipline makes our lives better, but increasingly people also want to make informed decision and choices. And while people are hungry for information, the way it is communicated needs some attention. Doctors, as the human face of science and knowledge have always been reassuring figures, not because they are medical robots but because of their vocation, their humanity.

It conveys the quality of emotion that Thomas Goetz, author and editor at Wired Magazine suggests in our section iMedicine, is a necessary complement to shaping behavioural change. This is central to the wider health and wellness debate. Also, contrary to one strain of communications in health and wellness, Goetz argues that fear-based ads don’t work as instigators of change, or only work in the short-term and for a limited amount of time.

It’s why clearer health information need not be exclusive of engaging information. “I guess there’s a question of whether you can be educational, informative and entertaining at the same time,” says DDB Remedy’s Ellen Fields. “We believe that yes you can. We are very committed to the letter and spirit of the law regarding the regulatory situation. What happened over the last few years is that there has been a lot of pressure for advertisers to be more conservative in their communications and we can do one of two things. We can either kick and scream or we can find ways to get ahead of the changes and continue to be successful.”

A certain emotion is part of the everyday discourse of doctor patient interaction, not least because patients’ personal health matters deeply to them. It’s not about the dispassionate diagnosis of the illness or the detached science of the solution. While the science of healthcare needs to seem ‘black and white’, and the economics of it means boxes have to be ticked, the patient’s experience of it is always more fluid. It’s something Novartis capture to a remarkable degree with the photography in their corporate communications.

Pharmaceutical giant Novartis place photography at the heart of their annual report, commissioning not just a well-known photographer for each report, but someone who is often on the frontline of news events. The narrative-based imagery is all the more powerful for its low-fi, incidental perspective which lends the work a sense of modesty. The imagery in the 2010 annual report is shot by James Nachtwey, a photojournalist and war photographer who has been developing a body of work around disease.

The 2010 report is a remarkably-curated piece of visual storytelling around research, suffering, relationships and healthcare. The subject-matter is shot with sympathy not sentimentality, and is all the more powerful because of the dignity it lends its subjects. The people in Natchwey’s frame are not victims of illness, or examples for the reader; they’re people with their own story. View the latest Novartis annual report online.

In our research, in our survey of advertising examples, and in the sales from the Getty Images website in the health and wellness sector, concepts such as ‘relationships’, ‘connectedness’ and ‘intuition’ feature as significantly as do other more ‘rational’ concepts in the visual language of health and wellbeing, such as ‘innovation’. This report reveals that there are many different conversations around health and wellness, and these are happening for many reasons, not least because everyone has different ideas of what health and wellness is.

James William Miller writes in his paper “Wellness: the History and Development of a Concept”, that emerged from 19th century religious, spiritual and philosophical thinking in America, that one’s mental health could have an impact on physical health. It was an idea that gained traction in the US from the 1950s as Public Health researchers began to look more holistically at the relationship between mind, body, spirit, culture and environment. And from the 1970s onwards the idea of wellness was infused by enthusiasts from the New Age movement who also conceived of it as being more than a matter of physiology but a whole approach to living, to nutrition, and arguably even politics with a small ‘p’ in concern for the environment.

This is important to the visual language of health and wellbeing across all areas which draws on activities such as yoga to signify ‘harmony’, ‘balance’ and a visual sense of ‘oneness’ (see this Gatorade ad which counts each drop of sweat out and each drop of Gatorade in – view ad).

“The visual language of ‘conversation’ and ‘relationships’ is going to become both tactically and strategically more important”

This gives an important cultural and visual context for the differing conversations around health and wellness, whether it’s a pharmaceutical producer,a food manufacturer, a clothing and sportswear company, and most critically a doctor and patient.

The need to connect radically different perspectives around health and wellness is one reason DDB Remedy was set up. “The problem in our industry,” says Fields, “is that companies like ours talk to consumers and we send them to the doctor’s offices as we say, armed and educated with information to talk about the disease or to talk about a drug. The doctors have a completely different set of information that’s been communicated to them. What happens is that patients and doctors get in the office, and they have what we call a ‘parallel conversation’. The patient says one thing and the doctor hears another thing. You could almost say, the doctor’s not listening and the patient’s not hearing.”

Fields believed there was an opportunity, if they could get involved in communicating to professionals they could get a sense of both sides of the doctor-patient equation. “If we can understand the patient’s mindset and the physician’s mindset, we think we are going to have a much better shot at creating a conversation, a dialogue, where they are starting to talk the same language and they are listening to each other and hearing what each other say. And if that happens doctors are going to be able to communicate more clearly with their patients, and patients will take their doctor’s advice in terms of lifestyle and medication.”

This highlights the major finding in this report that the visual language of ‘conversation’ and ‘relationships’ is going to become both tactically and strategically more important. There are divergent conversations taking place about what wellness consists of, and also a broader lack of trust around the value of information, whether that’s labelling or information from experts or information from the internet.

“Fear-based ads don’t work as instigators of change, or only work in the short-term and for a limited amount of time”

A recent report in the UK from health insurance company BUPA headlined with the observation that “there is increasingly more health information available online and more ways of accessing it than ever before however very few people check the quality of the information they are using.” And indeed it’s been a source of anxiety for patients and doctors alike over recent years. However as Thomas Goetz points out people who do research, spend time on the internet looking to get informed (despite perhaps looking in the wrong place or at the wrong data) are demonstrating commitment to their health and wellness. Willing patients are a great starting point for doctors.

All the research demonstrates that there are problems to be addressed in the area of health – an aging population who live longer, the cost of drugs and medication for populations who demand the latest treatments; obesity and the social and personal consequences of poor diet and lack of exercise. And the research shows that this is a positive moment, that more people are interested in their own health, in using the internet to find things out, in using Smartphone apps to assist good exercise and dietary habits. More people want to take control and commit to wellness in their own way. It’s the visual language of can-do, of health and wellness, not as problem- solving in the doctor’s office, but as a way of living.

Most of all, the report highlights the trend towards an era of personalized medicine, of treatment and discussion being related to knowledge of a person’s genetic make-up. And though in practice that DNA-based approach may be a while in becoming mainstream, the idea of personalized medicine is beginning to take hold in public consciousness through various medical apps and self-monitoring apps which enable people to be more involved in taking care of their own health, as portrayed in this print ad for Maccabi Health Services – view ad.