Businesses have mastered the art of customer profiling, employing these insights to create personalized communications that drive sales, build trust and foster loyalty. In healthcare, however, the consumer-driven practice of using data-led insights to drive personalized, meaningful consumer experiences, remains in its infancy.
It’s one of the biggest untapped opportunities in our industry. Delivering tailored communications and bespoke engagement approaches to patients at each step of their healthcare journey has the potential to improve health outcomes while also driving down provider costs. And it’s the key to opening up better engagement with clinical trials, new drugs and treatments, encouraging healthier behaviors and building trust with healthcare customers. Here’s how it works.
Elevating engagement in healthcare research
Let’s take clinical trials as an example. Healthcare systems are battling substantial capacity and financial constraints, meaning that activities such as clinical trials often fall by the wayside – despite their revenue-generating potential. Traditional trial recruitment methods involve providers trawling through individual electronic health records (EHRs) to identify suitable patients, followed by manually sending out standardized invitations. It’s a slow and laborious process that over-stretched healthcare providers lack capacity to deliver, and it’s not a particularly effective way of encouraging trial participation.
Targeted engagement solutions are now being applied to improve on some of these traditional methods. These advances in technology allow seamless linking of consented health data to patient engagement tools; powerful solutions that are accelerating the identification of potential participants. What’s most interesting, however, is that these technologies can also apply the consumer practice of customer segmentation. By using EHR data to segment cohorts, patients can be targeted with highly personalized messages, or via different engagement methods – for example, whereas digital outreach might be more suitable for younger generations, physical letters are likely to spark greater engagement with older demographics. Other examples include using images of ethnically diverse patients to increase the proportion of participants coming from a minority background and producing materials in different languages to engage those who don’t speak English as a first language.
We can also focus in on the content of our outreach and how this affects patients’ responses. Solutions such as interactive A/B testing can be very effective here, allowing the comparison of two versions of the same content to see which performs best against metrics for engaging and converting patients to participants.
Increasing clinical trial retention rates
Participant retention in clinical trials is another challenge that consumer techniques could solve. On average, a staggering 30% of patients enrolled in clinical trials drop out before the study is completed.
We can draw a parallel here between a patient’s clinical trial journey and a shopper abandoning their virtual cart without checking out. In online shopping, brands frequently reach out to these customers with a reminder to complete their purchase, or by sharing an incentive that makes the purchase more likely. With clinical trials, similar technology can track patient dropout of the clinical trial funnel and automate tactics to get them back on track – for example by using follow-up messages, providing helpline access, or by offering up additional incentives. This can increase study adherence and reduce the burden on healthcare providers to manage patient tracking and follow-up, allowing them to remain focused on their number one priority – patient care.
Encouraging uptake of new drugs and treatments
What’s more, applying the wisdom of consumer-centric practices to health record data could be a means of quickly and easily identifying patients who could stand to benefit from new drugs. Healthcare providers could then engage those patients through tailored communications designed to build trust and encourage uptake of new treatments. Given that there is a time lag of around six years from approval of new drugs to these being optimally prescribed – with patient hesitancy a significant driver of this delay – it’s another strong example of where a more targeted, tailored and persuasive approach could lead to better health outcomes.
And consumer-driven techniques can even be used to educate consumers on better health behaviors. For example, the treatment of obesity – which impacts around 42% of the US adult population – is largely dependent on costly drugs. Healthcare providers need to find ways to encourage patients to move towards healthier life choices rather than relying on drugs, and indeed, many providers are already sending out educational letters, flyers and emails to educate patients on the steps they could take to reduce their weight and improve their health. The problem is that, without personalization, these campaigns often fail to cut through or achieve their intended impact. Tailoring communications to specific patient cohorts is the essential first step towards genuine behavior change.
Putting the healthcare provider front-and-center
Of course, when it comes to personalization and tailored communications, there are right ways and wrong ways to engage with consumers – particularly regarding sensitive subjects. Worryingly, there is a growing trend for private companies to use social media insights as a way to apply consumer marketing techniques while circumventing the need to use EHR data – for example, as a means of recruiting clinical trial participants. There are significant drawbacks to this approach. Among other issues, social media is not representative, and many patients (especially older patients) may not use these sites. Perhaps most importantly, this approach takes the physician out of the loop, counter-productive given that physician recommendations are one of the biggest drivers of research participation.
So, it’s time for healthcare providers to take a more mature, accurate and incisive approach to their communications and engagement. Patients generally trust their healthcare providers (definitely more than they trust social media), and they already have an agreement in place to enable providers to use their rich healthcare data. The healthcare industry stands to benefit significantly from implementing consumer marketing techniques such as profiling and personalization, but the right approach is to keep physicians and verified healthcare data front-and-center.
Dr Matt Wilson
Dr. Matt Wilson is a physician by background, having received a distinction in his medical degree from Cardiff University. As a military sponsored undergraduate, he went on to complete his junior doctor years at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth and it was then he developed an interest in clinical research, supporting studies evaluating the use of thromboelastography in pancreatitis.
After three years working as a Royal Navy Medical Officer, he earned his green beret to work as a doctor in the Royal Marines. This time included a range of operations and exercises across the Middle East, Somalia, Kenya, Albania and Norway.
Moving back to work within the NHS, Matt then worked in emergency medicine before entering specialist training in anaesthetics. He founded uMed in 2017 recognising the opportunity to automate key parts of the clinical study process by using electronic health record data. Matt is also a fellow of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme.