A Data Strategy is Key for Health Systems to Attract – And Keep – Patients

The following is a guest article by Mike Linnert, Chief Executive Officer & Founder at SymphonyRM.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gaps in our healthcare system, but also illuminated opportunities for clinics and systems to build deeper relationships with existing and new patients and drive lifetime value. Take, for example, the stark decline in the number of Americans with primary care doctors, which is down by millions.

One of the biggest challenges to clinics’ and systems’ businesses is the accelerating competition for long-term customer relationships. Take, for example, the rise in retail health clinics. CVS Health plans to have 1,500 HealthHUBs operating by the end of 2021; Walgreens and VillageMD expect to have clinics in more than 30 markets, with more than half located in underserved areas. To staff those clinics, VillageMD is expected to recruit more than 3,600 primary care providers over the next five years.

The challenge comes not just from the presence of these easy-to-access clinics, but in the fact that retail has been leveraging engagement technology and tools for years. They understand how to build long-term relationships that create loyalty and unlock lifetime value. They use data and digital channels to drive proactive engagement.

In addition to the rise in retail clinics and Americans’ preference for convenience, fast service, connectivity and price transparency, the pandemic has taken a toll on clinics’ and systems’ bottom line. A recent analysis found that 28% of hospital systems had negative operating margins as of September 2020.

An opportunity arises   

The statistics are no surprise to anyone who’s been in or following healthcare. What most of us didn’t see coming was a global pandemic where more than 22 million Americans have been infected with a novel virus. As the number of cases around the country rose, so, too, did Americans’ reliance on their doctors and health systems.

In reviewing health system data from the past year, we found a dramatic increase in proactive patient engagement. For example, when a health system sent a text message containing general information related to COVID-19, we saw a 50-70% increase in open rates. For emails, open rates hovered between 40-50% (the industry average is around 20%).

Healthcare consumers want to hear from their providers; they are trusted advisers who look out for them and their well-being. We need to extend that relationship beyond the “appointment.” Consumers want persistent, proactive, personalized engagement from their providers. Their response rates to provider-drive outreach confirm that. Health systems have the opportunity right now to build stronger relationships. With accelerating competition, however, the window of opportunity will close.

It starts with data

Consumers have become accustomed to persistent, proactive, personalized engagement from consumer-facing services like Amazon and Netflix. The Netflix Recommendation Engine is so accurate that 80% of viewer activity is driven by personalized recommendations. Many of those are delivered via weekly email reminders of movies-you-might-like or movies-you-haven’t-finished-yet. In healthcare, we have some of the richest data available, which fuels the intelligence to deliver personalized content that drives customer experience, loyalty and lifetime value.

Designing a data strategy

Strategy starts with identifying the outcome you’re looking to achieve. One health system recognized the significant impact breast cancer had on their community. They had the capacity to help. They just needed to match the customers who needed them most to the radiologists, oncologists, and surgeons who could serve them best. They decided to run a proactive, personalized, digital outreach program to engage customers. The goal was to increase awareness and mammography screenings for high-risk customers and, for those who needed it, provide the cancer care they deserved.

A successful data-driven strategy must be designed from end-to-end and personalized to every customer. Practitioners must go beyond asking whether or not they can implement the technical details of an approach (whether it’s a rules-based or ML model) and start by thinking about how best to serve their customers/patients. As trusted advisors, they are uniquely positioned to deliver long-term health/value to their customers.

Engagement is key for patient retention

Data is key for effective engagement. For health systems, it’s not what content you should recommend like it is with Netflix, but it is about the next best action a patient should take for their health and wellness. People are loyal to brands that deliver value. And health is the most valuable topic to discuss with a consumer. Early awareness and intervention are proven to drive better health outcomes – from breast cancer to diabetes to heart disease. The health systems that are able to deliver persistent, proactive, personalized engagement both during and between encounters will drive loyal, healthy customers and successful organizations.

About Mike Linnert

Michael Linnert, Founder and CEO of SymphonyRM is on a mission to help healthcare organizations – from practice groups to health systems – leverage their audience data to improve patient engagement, health outcomes and exceed business goals. At SymphonyRM, he’s guiding those organizations successfully through the consumerization journey to meet their patients where they are. Find and connect with him on LinkedIn to talk patient engagement, Next Best Actions, and the role marketing plays in healthcare.