Marketing automation—what I like to call “Email 2.0″—has been used for many years now in the for-profit world to qualify sales leads, increase the efficiency of salespeople, and streamline email communications for companies of all sizes. After spending three days at Cleveland Clinic’s Medical Innovations Summit 2013, I’m convinced that we can bring this technology to healthcare and make a huge impact. In the United States, 75 percent of our healthcare expenses go to chronic care: long-term management of conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. With 1.8 million new cases of diabetes and 500,000 new cases of heart failure every year, we must as a society find ways to better manage these diseases over the long-term, which means empowering patients to properly self-manage. In fact, if we are going to bend the cost curve, shift the focus to the prevention side, and increase hospital revenues by preventing chronic conditions, we need to adapt proven technologies like this one to the healthcare industry.
Why marketing automation? As medical practitioners know, self-management must be integrated into the patient’s life, not a separate activity. What better way to integrate into a patient’s life than showing up regularly in their email inbox, where they are already communicating with family, checking their bank balances, reading the news, and more? The audience is ready: We know that 90 percent of boomers are online, with 89 percent of them using email, and 55 percent reading email every day. Boomers are also rapidly adopting technology: 40 percent have a smartphone, and 60 percent use social media. Why not use this long-established platform, a tool we all know and love, for instituting personalized healthcare?
Here’s what I think marketing automation brings to the healthcare industry:
Personalized, mass communications – Providers should focus on the individual’s motivations in each email, reminding them why they need to focus on maintaining their health. Marketing automation (MA) allows emails to adapt to the user’s behavior: what webpages they visit, what links they click, and much more. Think of it as the Amazon.com model of healthcare: Every communication is tailored to the exact preferences of your patient. For instance, the system could send patients timely reminders and suggestions, such as “Eat right this Thanksgiving!” or “Make sure you exercise before you enjoy those Super Bowl nachos!” Just as importantly, communications can be sent via text messages as well, so even patients without email—like the elderly or under-served urban populations— can be included.
- Create a complete digital profile – Just like doctors have a patient’s entire electronic medical record at their fingertips, let’s build an individual’s entire digital fingerprint through this technology. Marketing automation tracks a patient’s complete online activity, including email opens, time on your website, what pages they’ve seen on your site, what videos they’ve watched, their social media engagement, and more. Even more important than reactively building this profile is proactively looking for high-risk patients. For example, if a diabetes patient has been out of the hospital for 3 weeks and hasn’t opened a single email, they should automatically receive an email with “PLEASE OPEN IMMEDIATELY” as the subject line. Every week, the MA system can email your doctors and nurses with a list of high-risk patients who have shown no engagement with your program, allowing your staff to only spend their precious time calling the most critical cases.
- Build trust and knowledge – We all know that there’s a lot of crazy health information out there on the Web, inaccurate advice that could actually hurt your patients rather than help them. Putting your chronic disease patients in an MA program means that they will receive valuable and reliable information, delivered to their inboxes, on a regular basis. Chances are good that you already have a curriculum for educating chronic disease patients, either online or at least on paper. By building the patient’s knowledge of his/her condition and trust in providers through this “information concierge,” you increase the chance that the patient will adhere to the prescribed regimen.
- Institute gamification – People love to play games, so why not turn chronic disease self-management into a competition that allows the patient to earn points through reading online articles, emailing with their doctor, and more? Marketing automation scores an individual’s activities, and can share with them their score—and even the prizes they’ve won along the way.
As you can see, marketing automation – proven in the business world – is a natural fit for improving healthcare in 2014 and beyond. As clinical practitioners look to increase adherence and lower readmissions, marketing automation technologies will play a growing role in achieving those long-term goals.