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There Is No Quick Fix for Healthcare Consumer Engagement

Older healthcare consumer and physician

We hear a lot about consumer engagement in healthcare. But what exactly does healthcare consumerization mean?

Consumerization is, at its core, personalization. It is the recognition by a business — a healthcare enterprise — that patients demand individual attention. They expect to be treated like more than a member of a cohort. They want providers to understand and empathize with them on a personal level, to cater to their communication preferences and to motivate them using methods to which they are receptive.

Healthcare needs to work on "sticky" consumer relationships.

Too often, healthcare entities today rely on broad-focused campaigns to communicate their messaging. But consumers have become thoroughly desensitized to blanket advertising. Billboards, commercials, direct mailers, non-personalized e-mails, web ads — they're nearly omnipresent, and that makes them easy to ignore. They're just so much noise.

There's really nothing mystical about healthcare consumer engagement. To break it down simply, it's getting to know your customers so that you can figure out ways to keep them coming back to you.

Contributing to HealthcareITNews, former Pegasystems marketing director Janice Young noted that other industries have been engaging in engagement for quite some time. And they've become quite proficient at it.

"Retail and financial services companies have gotten so good at this that they regularly provide personalized recommendations and interactions that are just short of eerie," Young wrote. "These industries are far ahead of healthcare in their ability to use technologies for sophisticated marketing and customer service programs that engage customers with useful information at the very moment they are inclined to use it, creating relationships so sticky that customers keep coming back."

Knowing your customer/consumers is only one part of engagement. Engaging a consumer in a way that inspires action also involves knowing the form of communication your customer is receptive to, as well as the actual timing of the communication. These factors play into message receptivity.

Indeed, the ability to deliver a perfectly-timed, tailored consumer interaction is already a differentiator in the market and will likely become a core competency for successful health enterprises in the not-too-distant future.

Barriers to engagement need to be broken down.

The healthcare industry needs increased interoperability in order to ensure the long-term viability of the healthcare consumer market. We need more data sharing capability — hand-in-hand with revised, but robust, consumer privacy protections. Governmental responses to consumers' privacy fears are, after all, one of the only real barriers to true data transparency.

Although advocacy groups are pushing the federal and state governments to give the industry more leeway to share and analyze collected patient data, there is still quite a bit of inertia to overcome.

Providers also need to undertake efforts to reduce complicated jargon in consumer-facing communications. Efforts to improve data sharing are meaningless if providers don't learn how to speak in ways consumers understand.

Among the Clear Choices Campaign's (many) recommendations:

  • Increase information relevance for consumers. Providers must to figure out how to better convey rational and scientific findings with plain, user-friendly language that also communicate pathos.
  • Increase patients' safe access to data. Patients should be able to access their own medical records without hassles. They are, after all, patients' data. It's hard to build consumer trust if a patient is prevented from viewing his or her own chart.
  • Make more data available to healthcare entrepreneurs. It's hard to develop a solution to fit a need if you don't know what the need is or where it exists. Behold, the Catch-22 of healthcare innovation: the need to figure out safe ways of streamlining and making available vetted, anonymous patient population data in order to invest in developing solutions that (a) improve efficiency and (b) improve patient outcomes.

Engagement solutions are useless without real patient insights to power them.

Imagine you're a physician meeting a new patient for the first time. Before that patient arrives in your office, you review his electronic medical record and learn everything there is to know about his health history and disease condition.

When he finally walks in, you don't give him a chance to speak before announcing that you have the solution to his condition, a simple Prescription X which will clear it right up if taken as ordered.

But then the patient tells you that there is no way that he is going to take that prescription, nor do anything else you tell him to do.

Why, you ask?

"Because you didn't introduce yourself or say hello to me when I walked in the room."

It may seem irrational and counter-productive, but many patients have this attitude, even if it remains unarticulated. Healthcare is an emotional subject.

Just as a doctor might be able to comb through a chart and tell everything about a patient's medical history, but not understand the patient himself, so too can health IT solutions be ineffective when they are deployed in the absence of meaningful consumer insights.

As one physician told HealthcareITNews, serving a real person is different than trying to move a data point.

"[Doctors are] protecting themselves with data, and they forget just how to relate" to their patient-consumers, the Stanford School of Medicine's Dr. Kyra Bobinet asserted.

"The actual live experience can't be understood," she said. "The problem is the technology has not evolved enough to be anything more than an amplifier."

However, technology + consumer insights can be powerful.

As mentioned earlier, the healthcare industry is a little behind in leveraging consumer insights to meet patients’ needs and influence their behavior. This is not to say that the healthcare industry isn’t sitting on a wealth of patient data – the utilization data at its fingertips is second to none. However, these data only tell you WHAT a patient is doing, not WHY they are doing it.

Psychographics pertain to people’s values, attitudes, personalities and lifestyles, and are the key to unlocking patient motivations. Psychographic segmentation allows a healthcare provider to anticipate the needs of sub-segments of a patient population and engage them according to their communication preferences. While psychographic segmentation is standard practice among leading consumer companies like P&G, it isn’t widely used in healthcare, and this is a big opportunity.

Moreover, technology tailored with access to healthcare consumer insights can be a powerful tool.

Don't believe it? Just ask these companies.

EdLogics, for example, uses psychographic insights for healthcare consumers to help providers improve their population health management programs and wellness initiatives, using gamefied and personalized patient education experiences.

EdLogics' games provide reward incentives to healthcare consumers who use them. They ensure that healthcare consumers understand the health information presented to them, which helps them to be more confident, better self-managers of their care. That translates to cheaper, better outcomes.

They also allow healthcare organizations to collect insights into patient usage, patient learning, motivating factors and engagement levels. That data can, in turn, be analyzed to provide additional insights that help providers shape better, more effective consumer engagement experiences.

Another company, PatientBond, has developed a cloud-based, multi-channel healthcare consumer engagement platform that utilizes c2b solutions’ psychographic segmentation model to shape its real-time, consumer-facing messaging.

PatientBond is able to target specific segments identified through psychographic modeling. It then adapts communications, in the context of individuals' health situations, to increase the relevance of those communications and to improve consumers' response rates. This increases the overall likelihood of meaningful engagement between providers and their patients.

Healthcare consumer engagement isn't as simple as purchasing and using a piece of IT.

As Dr. Bobinet so aptly put it, healthcare "is so much more emotional than an iPhone." Solutions can only be derived from a real and pragmatic understanding of your organization's patient-consumer population. But no patient population is homogenous. No demographic cohort is homogenous. People are people — individuals are motivated by personal experiences, by their ingrained values and by circumstances or influencers around them.

Psychographic segmentation allows you to tap into the chaos and, to a degree, order it. It allows your organization to power up its engagement solutions with impactful data. It allows you to use meaningful insights to improve patient outcomes while achieving your organization’s business objectives.

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


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