Using Data and a Marketing Approach to Improve Population Health

An interview with Dan Ablett, President at Bridgecom

Changing behaviors is hard. Everyone resists change, even when it’s in their best interest to do so. You don’t have to look farther than the difficulty healthcare leaders are having convincing people to stay at home to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus or persuading patients to adopt healthier lifestyles to prevent the onset of disease complications. The team at Bridgecom applies technology, discipline and an approach that uses well-established marketing techniques to change patient behaviors.

Data, data, data. EHR data. Patient generated data. Pharmacy data. Healthcare has so many systems, all of them collecting data at an exponentially growing rate. It wasn’t that long ago that we were focused just on what we could do with EHR data. But now, the big topic is: How can we make sense of the mountains of data and Where it can be put to effective use.

Dan Ablett knows as well as anyone that it’s not just the data you have collected. That’s just the foundation. You also need proper data governance, tools, workflows and people to truly leverage healthcare data. Ablett is the President at Bridgecom – a company that provides healthcare clients a powerful way to close communications and care gaps. The team at Bridgecom have worked with many healthcare clients to create affordable, scalable ways to engage patients in their health.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ablett to talk about how we can better utilize health data.

“What we’re seeing that is making a real difference for healthcare clients is risk stratification and population identification,” said Ablett.  “When you combine that analysis with well-curated content, either third-party or home-grown, as well as the right communication channels and you have the makings for an effective engagement program. That can have a real impact.”

Imagine, for example, that you can use upstream analytics to identify people who might be have difficulty staying on top of their diabetes (medication, diet, exercise, etc). It may be just forgetfulness in some cases, financial challenges in others, or transportation/geography difficulties. Once these patients (or members if we’re talking about payers) are identified, you can opt them into an appropriate outreach campaign that can provide them the support they need to stay on track.

For some it could be simple text reminders to take the correct medications. For others it could be a monthly email with suggested recipes or connections with local exercise groups. For those without access to transportation it could be discount codes for ridesharing. With electronic systems, like what Bridgecom offers, all of this can be delivered without need to hire an army of phone agents.

In some ways, what Ablett is talking about is bringing a marketing mindset to population health – using data for better targeting and activation. The difference here, of course, is that the action you want the person to take isn’t a purchase but rather an action to improve/maintain their health. Just like a marketing campaign – it’s not as simple as a starting one and letting it run. Campaigns need constant adjusting based on actual results. These cycles of “tuning and adjusting” are critical according to Ablett.

Ablett also talks about using tried-and-true technologies like texting, automated calling and email for outreach to patients and members. These tools are powerful but are not extremely effective if deployed blindly. By matching recipients with the right message through the channel they are most responsive to, you improve the chances of changing behaviors.

There’s also a lot to think about and great variance in how these types of campaigns play out. Here are just a few things Ablett says organizations needs to consider when developing a campaign of this nature:

  • What is the specific objective?
  • Who is the right audience?
  • How are you going to connect with that audience?
  • What is the incentive for the person to change behavior?
  • Are you going to offer an actual incentive (financial or otherwise)?
  • What partnerships are necessary between all the parties to make it work sustainably?

“We see a lot of campaigns, that are thrown together quickly,” observes Ablett. “They try to cram everything into a one-and-done project. You can’t think about it this way. Getting real results take time and constant adjustment. Shifting behaviors isn’t easy.”

Watch my conversation with Dan Ablett to learn:

  • How to be agile and targeted in your outreach
  • The impact a system can see before and after implementation of a campaign approach
  • How screening rates increase following targeted messaging
  • The necessary foundation you need for repeatable, scalable change
  • The step-by-step process for turning data into population health campaigns

To learn more, visit

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About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.