There’s no overstating the importance of data. In many ways, it is the currency upon which so much of the healthcare industry is run.
The extent to which a medical practice can capture, share, and act on data will determine its success in so many aspects of business. Beyond that, your ability to meet and exceed customer expectations—to improve the patient experience and quality of care—will depend on your ability to make the most of your data.
Often, it’s not procuring the data that is a problem, but managing that data and deriving actionable insights. Within the healthcare vertical, we’ve found that big data doesn’t always equal smart data. This is especially true of larger medical practices, where it’s actually the abundance of data that tends to create problems.
To help your practice strategize around how to harness your data and use it to fuel growth at your medical practice, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to data management within healthcare—five strategies you can use today to take back control of your data.
Strategy 1: Build a Foundational Marketing Analytics Team
Marketers within most healthcare organizations have access to an incredible amount of data. This is common. Less common are mature data management strategies that help these marketers accurately identify, measure, and act on KPIs.
Because data for the sake of data isn’t much help in a vertical as crowded and competitive as healthcare, there’s a growing demand for data acquisition specialists, quality controllers, scientists, analysts and interpreters within healthcare marketing teams. Members of this team must be able to analyze data findings and relate them to strategic objectives and then communicate those insights to executives.
Beyond personnel, data analysis itself should now be built into marketing plans to ensure that they more closely align with real-time consumer needs. According to Gartner, this means a close connection between an organization’s operational model and its data stack. In other words, the most savvy, forward-thinking medical practices are aligning their strategies quite closely—and quite intentionally—with their data.
Strategy 2: Eliminate Organizational Silos
Too often, we find that various marketing functions are decentralized across various departments and locations within a medical practice or healthcare organization. While these kinds of “silos” can easily become accepted as status quo, they present real hindrances to data sharing and overall growth. These include:
- Incomplete, inefficient, or non-existing communication channels between various teams
- Inability to disseminate data insights and collaborate on “big” ideas
- Lack of alignment around broader organizational strategies, including competing interests
- Patchwork patient management and data systems scattered across various locations, creating inaccuracies, incongruencies, and incomplete data
Organizational silos represent a systemic issue with consequences that extend beyond just data management. Patients are impacted, too, as these disparate systems make it difficult for providers to identify health-related patterns, track trends, and communicate information to patients with continuity. All of this ultimately translates to degraded quality of care.
- Tear down silos and encourage collaboration across departments
- Structure your marketing program and data platforms around the needs of your healthcare consumer
- Consider how digital tools can connect different operational units, improve communication, and facilitate data transmittance
Strategy 3: Leverage APIs to Accelerate Digital Transformation
Let’s dig into the technical side of things because the way your organization leverages your technology integrations can make all the difference. Through custom application programming interfaces (API), it’s possible to connect disparate technology systems across your organization, including your sources of data and data management.
Within the healthcare vertical, specifically, you might consider strategic APIs to connect your electronic health record (EHR) platform with other tools, such as databases, health tracking apps, customer relationship management (CRM) software, web services, and even marketing automation software. These kinds of connections can enhance your ability to pool and derive value from all sources of data.
Of course, these kinds of integrations and development don’t happen overnight, and they can require considerable resources and budget. One place to start is with what Gartner calls a thorough audit of your marketing technologies and systems.
Most healthcare companies, despite their growing suites of technologies, are surprised to learn that they don’t have a clear, documented understanding of their tech stack, nor what data is available to them (and how). An audit can provide a kind of roadmap, one that helps your organization identify:
- Where you need to drive better technology adoption to boost efficiency across the organization
- Opportunities for strategic data integrations (through APIs) that can bolster and enhance data management
- Which technologies your organization no longer needs and are ready to be phased out
Strategy 4: Listen to Your Stakeholders (that Includes Patients)
Speaking of data, your organizational stakeholders and patients represent one of the richest sources you have. The question is, are you listening to what these important people are telling you?
Along each “journey” or essential process at your medical practice, there are key stakeholders that have insights that can improve the delivery of care and, in doing so, impact your bottom line. These are the “people doing the work,” and their experiences, friction points, and frustrations should not be overlooked.
Consider this: a recent physician survey by Deloitte reported that many physicians feel as if they’re not part of the EHR solution. These physicians reported feeling like they’re just “passive participants in EHR optimization efforts.”
What a lost opportunity!
Physicians, nurses, and other staff members on the frontline are able to provide critical insights that would improve data collection efficiency and data quality. Their adoption of technologies like EHR solutions is crucial, yet it will be difficult to achieve if you don’t listen to their feedback.
In the same Deloitte survey, 58% of physicians said there is room for improvement in clinical documentation. They complained of having to manually enter data from hand-written forms (versus having the patient enter the data through an integrated technology). Again, this stakeholder feedback can help organizations consider new ways to not only improve clinical documentation, but to unlock the critical insights that are hidden in physicians’ notes, reports, and other narrative documents.
Finally, and most importantly, listen to the patient. Successful healthcare organizations always have a patient-first mindset. Use technology to capture their feedback and seek ways to integrate it with marketing systems—center the patient when developing new marketing strategies, especially as they relate to data acquisition, management, and insights.
Strategy 5: Understand the Marketing Strategies that Drive Growth
Growth-oriented strategies are usually data-driven strategies. At their core, these strategies are centered around evaluating your marketing strategy and identifying where data could be used—or better used—to enable and realize growth opportunities.
Here are a few ways to go about that:
Segmentation is essential to the success of really any data-driven marketing strategy. Your ability to extract meaningful, actionable insights from mountains of data relies heavily on segmentation.
Through segmentation, data interpreters can, for example, help you understand why certain patients choose your practice, or why certain patient populations are more likely to decide against a treatment plan, opting instead to live with their condition. Segmentation can also help identify the most profitable patients to target with, for instance, PPC advertisements or email re-engagement campaigns.
The trick is to go beyond segmenting by basic demographics like age and gender. Dig deeper to examine patient behaviors. How do they make healthcare decisions? What resources do they use? Once you understand how and why people make decisions, you’ll be better able to influence those decisions. This will also help you map the patient journey and develop marketing campaigns to move consumers toward your goal.
These days, people respond much better to marketing communications tailored to their specific experience. These kinds of personalized communications can strengthen your relationship with the healthcare consumer, foster customer loyalty, increase patient retention, improve the effectiveness of up-selling and cross-selling, and increase referrals from happy patients who feel understood.
One way to achieve more personalized communication is by integrating your EHR with your CRM and marketing automation software. This will enable you, for example, to send personalized email communications to segmented recipient lists. You can address recipients by first name and tailor messaging to their specific demographic. Is the patient a senior citizen with limited technical savvy? Maybe this person has been shown to value peer opinion and could benefit from a video testimonial.
You can also create data-driven campaigns with content tailored to the patient’s medical service history. Following a consultation, for example, you can share resources that answer common questions about treatments. Or offer discounts on related services or products. You might also use patient history to trigger automated campaigns for routine care, such as appointment follow-ups and yearly wellness exams.
Beyond email, look for opportunities to bring personalization to other digital platforms. You can create content resource centers around specific healthcare topics, such as new moms or healthy heart best practices.
Data-driven cross-sells and upsells
The rule of thumb in business is that it usually costs more to attract new customers than it does to retain existing ones. Generally speaking, the same goes for attracting new patients to your practice. This is what makes upsells and cross-sells to existing patients so profitable, representing yet another opportunity for smarter data management.
Cross-selling and up-selling are most effective when healthcare providers look beyond their product or service and see their patients as people, not just numbers of profit opportunities. Organizations that think about the needs of their patients, as well as the value or benefit they’ll receive from a product or service, tend to experience greater success with cross-sells and upsells.
One foundational way to do this is by creating patient personas based on your data. Use data analysis to identify purchasing behaviors like motivations, success factors, and potential barriers to purchase. What questions do they have? Where do they go for information? Which apps and social networks do they use? With this information, you can develop rich, personalized experiences that motivate them to make additional purchases.
With personas defined, you can connect them to your segmentation activities to identify the existing patients most likely to purchase a particular product or service. From there, you can develop content and communication strategies tailored to specific personas, and serve content to patients at the moment they’re most receptive to a cross-sell. You can also reward loyal patients (as you define the term based on your data interpretation) with exclusive offers and discounts.
Finally, look at historical purchase data to help identify when patients purchase specific products or services. You can then trigger email marketing campaigns based on specific parameters defined within your EHR system. Is there evidence of seasonal trends or yearly cycles? Maybe patients tend to buy after lab tests or checkups.
Precise advertising targets
Here’s where smart data and market segmentation really shine. Within healthcare, paid advertising can sometimes feel like a “spray and pray” tactic at best. You can overcome this by launching data-driven paid search advertising campaigns to deliver better results, meaning more patient leads and better return on your ad spend.
This means targeting the right people, which starts with refining your audience. Facebook Ads and Google Ads, for example, offer rich targeting capabilities. Your team can dig into your data and identify the characteristics and behaviors of your ideal patient, then correlate those to the ad audiences you specify for your campaigns.
RELATED: See how Aliera Healthcare broke into a new market using Facebook Ads while keeping the cost per lead down.
Refining your audience can also mean by location. Use geo-targeting and location-based campaigns to drive ads toward patient populations in specific areas. An eyecare center that opens a new location in a busy strip mall, for example, may target visitors who frequent the grocery store next door. If you’re an orthopedic practice, to use another example, you might serve ads to a specific age group that frequents nearby gyms or fitness centers. Of you might target nearby business parks if you know patients tend to schedule appointments during lunch breaks.
Like any other marketing strategy, location-based advertising and “geofencing” campaigns require a close understanding of the patient journey. For years, retail marketers have used location-based targeting to attract new customers. According to eMarketer, location-targeted ad spend will increase to $31.1B in 2020. There is no reason that healthcare marketers shouldn’t use geo-targeting to their advantage.
Better lead attribution
Yet another benefit of connecting your technology systems, platforms, and data sources is the ability to attribute leads more accurately. Lead attribution helps you understand where new patients come from. Organic website traffic? Social media advertising campaigns? With this data, you can get quite serious and efficient about where you direct your marketing spend.
For a long time, so-called “last click” attribution models have been the norm, but we’ve found that these models don’t tell the complete story. Instead, we recommend more sophisticated lead attribution models, for example:
- Multi-touch attribution models, in which you can assign partial conversion credit to a variety of marketing channels and touchpoints. While the healthcare patient journey is more complex, it’s still possible to develop a better attribution model that helps you understand the effectiveness of various marketing activities. As system integrations increase, healthcare marketers should explore how they can adopt similar models.
- Call tracking software, like CallRail, can help you capture conversion data. It can integrate with Google Analytics, Google Ads, and popular marketing automation software systems like Marketo and HubSpot.Call tracking software can give you data around which keywords, for example, are driving phone calls to help you close the loop between PPC campaigns, leads, and new patients. Yet, not everything happens online, which is why call tracking software also tracks offline campaigns using custom phone numbers. This enables you to identify which campaign is driving the most leads.
Accurate and reliable lead attribution data is not always easy. It requires that your marketing analytics software is connected to your CRM, Google Analytics, PPC advertising platform, and marketing automation software. Some organizations even invest in third-party analytics software, such as PatientStream from Cardinal Digital Marketing, that helps take out the headache by seamlessly connecting all of these systems and managing them from a central interface.
Important Considerations When Taking Control of Your Own Data
Let’s start here: if your organization has been grappling with how to derive more value from your data, you’re certainly not alone. Within the healthcare industry, it is common for medical practices—especially larger groups with many different locations under their broader umbrella—to lack suitable strategies around data management.
Yet the goal remains the same: How to harness this data to both propel growth and consistently improve patient outcomes?
As you consider your own data infrastructure, keep the following questions in mind:
Who owns the data and where does it reside?
When conducting your technology audit, map out where data exists and who owns it? Data locations might include:
- Electronic health record (EHR) technology
- Revenue cycle management (RCM) software
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software
- Marketing automation platforms
- Content management systems (CMS)
How are your disparate systems connected?
How do you get the data to the people who need it? What APIs are needed? What vendors need to be involved? And who, finally, interprets the data?
How do you ensure customer privacy is protected?
Compliance cannot be overlooked in any medical practice, especially when it comes to consumer data. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have strict requirements for the use of personally identifiable information (PII). Indeed, data collaboration needs to be approached carefully, and cybersecurity risks should be part of any discussion involving technology integration.
These three high-level questions are good starting points for the data management conversation. A thorough audit centered around your patients first, then your broader marketing objectives can pay massive dividends within the healthcare vertical. Increasingly, it all starts with how we use data.