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The Secret to Better Healthcare Analytics and Consumer Behavior Change

Healthcare consumer analytics

Atul Butte (MD, PhD) knows health data. When he says, “Hiding within those mounds of data is knowledge that could change the life of a patient, or change the world,” he means it. Currently the director of the Institute of Computational Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and a Professor of Pediatrics, Butte worked as a software engineer at Apple and Microsoft before receiving his MD from Brown Medical School, then PhDs from Harvard Medical School and MIT. While he works to detect clues that could lead to new uses for old medicines or gene-based therapies for patients with Type 2 diabetes, others across the healthcare industry are hoping that, by leveraging healthcare analytics, they too can change patients’ lives for the better by improving engagement. The problem? Healthcare consumers can be considerably more difficult to ‘read’ than experiment databases and lab mice.

So, how can you activate the available patient and consumer data to greater effect? Psychographic segmentation.

What is Psychographic Segmentation?

Ever since mass-marketing was developed to entice consumers to buy products or services, marketers have been segmenting their audiences by shared features. For more than 50 years, companies relied heavily on demographics — age, ethnicity, gender, education, income — to distinguish these groups.

All that began to change with the arrival of the digital age. The amount of data that was being collected about consumers skyrocketed. Now, in addition to demographic data, marketers could mine social media, customer purchase histories and more. They recognized these new data as an opportunity to create unique buyer personae. Instead of advertising to a homogenous group — all Millennial males, for example — marketers could target their most likely prospects: health pro-active, extroverted males, ages 25 to 30 years old. Notice how the first two persona features are health pro-active and extroverted. That’s psychographic segmentation.

Psychographic segmentation identifies the unique attitudes, values and motivations of consumers, helping companies fine-tune their communications to connect with consumers more effectively. We conducted extensive research to identify five distinct psychographic segments focused on health and wellness:

  • Balance Seekers
  • Willful Endurers
  • Priority Jugglers
  • Self Achievers
  • Direction Takers

As the names suggest, each of these psychographic segments — or personae — has unique traits that influence where, when, why and how they approach healthcare. Balance Seekers like to explore a variety of treatment options and consider physicians as just one resource. Direction Takers, on the other hand, look to physicians first and foremost when it comes to health and wellness. While Self Achievers are proactive and motivated by measurable goals, Willful Endurers take a more laissez faire approach, not worrying about their future health and only going to the doctor as a last resort. And Priority Jugglers are reactive about their own health, but proactive about the health of their family. Moreover, these unique psychographic segments also have different preferences when it comes to where they seek out health information and in what form the receive it.

Healthcare Consumerism Demands Better Segmentation

While retailers have embraced psychographic segmentation for years now, the healthcare industry, to a large extent, still considers patients in broad swaths, usually based on demographics and diagnoses. While that may have worked in pre-ACA America, healthcare consumerism has now taken hold. As today’s healthcare consumers take on more financial responsibility for their healthcare costs, they also expect more in return. Think about the Amazon or Apple customer experience, and you’ve got the picture. They certainly don’t want — and are less likely to engage with — a one-size-fits-all approach from healthcare providers, insurers or employers who hope to improve medication compliance or influence healthier behaviors. Can you really imagine a single message that would appeal to both a Willful Endurer and a Self Achiever?

Yet, healthcare providers need to get their messages across to drive patient engagement. It is, said Healthcare IT News Editor-in-Chief Tom Sullivan in an article published last fall, “… one of the most promising trends in healthcare today,” with the potential to reduce healthcare expenditures and improve both individual and population health.

As healthcare providers grapple with the challenges of patient engagement, the need for a more personalized approach is clear. At last year’s HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Patient Engagement Summit, experts acknowledged that healthcare providers must recognize that patient engagement will take more than a slick mobile app or a fancy patient portal. “Motivation and emotion, instead, are the most critical factors,” wrote mHealthNews editor Eric Wicklund. Kyra Bobinet, a consulting faculty member of the Stanford School of Medicine and CEO of engagedIN, agrees. When addressing the Summit attendees, she said, “Behavior always dominates technology. If it doesn't resonate with how you actually feel about it, it's going to miss you. Healthcare is so much more emotional than an iPhone.”

A Better Framework for Activating Healthcare Consumer Data

These days, healthcare organizations enjoy ‘mounds’ of patient data thanks to digital health records, clinical and billing systems. They also have plenty of consumer demographic data at their disposal, and, in aggregate, it is making a difference. Last year, Todd Rothenhaus M.D., the chief medical officer of athenahealth, shared his own healthcare analytics experiences with Harvard Business Review.

Rothenhaus described how athenahealth, which offers cloud-based services for healthcare providers as well as point-of-care mobile apps, is using near real-time clinical and financial performance data to help its 65,000 users across the country improve efficiency and performance. And because patient engagement represents an important strategy among athenahealth’s clients shifting to value-based payment models, the organization has applied its ability to uncover insights from the data to optimize patient engagement. After analyzing the data — and, said Rothenhaus, “a little old-fashioned gumshoe reporting” — athenahealth was able to identify what sets leaders apart from the rest of the pack. The organization uncovered some interesting findings:

  • Digital engagement isn’t only for Millennials. According to athenahealth’s analysis, patients age 70 to 79 are just as likely to use patient portals at the same rate as those in their twenties. In fact, older patients actually sign in more frequently than younger cohorts.
  • Specialty practices benefit from portals, despite the fact that these patients rarely need to stay engaged for the long term. Most significantly, adherence to perioperative protocols improved among specialty practices using portals.
  • An opt-out approach works better than an opt-in one when it comes to getting patients engaged with portals. Think of it as the path of least resistance.
  • Size doesn’t matter. Practices both small and large were able to realize higher patient engagement levels, which Rothenhaus considered good news in light of “the ongoing march toward consolidation.”
  • Demographics can negatively impact engagement, but it isn’t an insurmountable problem. Noting that “Medicaid patients are roughly 70% less likely than commercially-insured patients to use a patient portal,” Rothenhaus said that some providers achieved high patient portal adoption despite a “heavy Medicaid case mix … proving that demography is not destiny when it comes to patient engagement.”

Yet until healthcare analytics are also viewed within the framework of those distinctive attitudes, motivations and behaviors that influence engagement — the emotional component of which Bobinet spoke — patient engagement efforts may fall on deaf ears or be met with only lukewarm responses by consumers. If you want to really push the needle on patient engagement in this time of healthcare consumerism, you’ll need to think more like a customer-centric retailer, and psychographic segmentation can get you headed in the right direction.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change

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