personalization in healthcare marketing

About five years ago, Adobe cited personalization as a marketing trend poised to transform businesses.

Three years later, McKinsey & Company consultants hailed personalization as the “prime driver of marketing success” for the coming era.

Today, the power of personalization shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, with 98% of enterprise marketers pointing to data-driven personalization as a key to achieving primary objectives, and a full 80% of consumers identifying as “more likely” to purchase when experiences are personalized, it seems individualized communication is here to stay.

And that’s just for products.

Now, take a second to think about what personalization can mean when the “person” in question is a patient rather than a consumer.

Suddenly, the stakes get higher.

This is because human connection—to state the painfully obvious—is a crucial component of effective, meaningful healthcare. All the critical tenets of customer personalization (building trust, establishing relationships, ensuring peace of mind) are doubly applicable for each and every part of the patient experience, in or out of the exam room.

No one wants an impersonal or unreliable practitioner, after all. So why would they tolerate a faulty records system or a badly timed email from the front desk?

They wouldn’t. And science proves it.

A 2020 Dynata survey of over 1,000 US healthcare consumers warns of a 71% frustration rate surrounding provider experiences, including confusing office processes, scheduling difficulties, and poor bedside manner. Frustration levels were so high, more than half of respondents indicated they’d rather subject themselves to jury duty than face a typical health insurance snafu with their doctor.

This suggests only 29% of healthcare service providers are hitting their mark when it comes to personalized interactions with patients: that’s less than a third.

Only 29% of healthcare service providers are hitting their mark for personalized interactions with patients.

Are you hoping to avoid the fate of the 71% not hitting their mark? Easier said than done, especially since personalization can be as technically challenging as it is essential.

But there’s hope.

Horizons are expanding, and technology is advancing, making it infinitely easier for healthcare operations to implement processes for personalization, all while staying within budget.

Below are three simple strategies you can adopt to improve personalized communication with patients––from initial research on through to continued care.

1. Think outside the “name and DOB” box

A major contributor to patient dissatisfaction is the all-too-familiar “feeling like a number” syndrome. The disconnect is a common issue among practices large and small, with corporate consolidations only exacerbating the problem.

Just consider the cold, dispassionate scripts employed during conventional provider phone calls.


Patient: Hi. I’m concerned about some symptoms I’m having, and I’d like to schedule an appointment with my PCP.
Practics Admin: Name? Date of birth?

There’s no quicker way to make a patient feel irrelevant, and yet healthcare offices do it all the time.

Still, remedies exist to combat the status quo. And they begin with how your practice handles data.

Which leads us to a small pop quiz…

Does your office work with:

  • A patient portal?
  • A records repository?
  • Various data silos stored in the Cloud?

If your answer involves more than one warehouse, start ditching your disparate depots in favor of a single, streamlined source of information.

By integrating your data, doctors, nurses, and administrative staff will be given instant visibility into each patient’s entire practice experience: from past appointments to medical history, emails sent and received, and beyond.

This visibility helps facilitate a personal touch, enabling smarter, more sensitive conversations between patients and personnel, as in:

Patient: Hi. I’m concerned about some symptoms I’m having, and I’d like to schedule an appointment with my PCP.
Practice Admin: I’m sorry to hear that. Looks like you’ve called us using this number before. Am I speaking with Sarah Smith?
Patient: Yes.
Practice Admin: Hi Sarah. I’m seeing you’ve recently consulted with your PCP, Dr. Jones, about some abdominal pain. How’s that going? Are your current symptoms at all similar?

With a 360-degree view of the patient at your fingertips, dialogues like these become standard practice (so to speak), rather than the exception to the rule.

In addition, centralized data repositories allow offices to segment patients seamlessly according to certain criteria, such as age, location, and even family medical history. Segmentation can up your personalization game even further by homing in on specific patient profiles to encourage targeted content distribution.

Unsure how to cater your content to customers in this way? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Segmenting patients by age enables easydissemination of predictive materials, giving patients a “heads up” re: necessary procedures (think: a “Happy Birthday” email, complete with infographic on recommended screenings for patient-specific age groups).
  • Segmenting by location provides opportunities to send preventative CTAs to individuals in high-risk areas (i.e., text messages such as: “We notice your neighborhood is experiencing an outbreak of flu. Can we book a flu shot appointment for you?”).
  • Segmenting by family history (subject to patient approval), helps providers flag potential problem areas and offer tips for avoiding complications (i.e., a pamphlet campaign targeting patients at risk of stroke, detailing warning signs, suggestions for optimal nutrition, and potential treatments).

2. Know your entire playing field

Personal touches are great. But personal touches that take the big picture into account? Even better.  

Personalization depends just as much on context as it does on humanity. All the kindness in the world can’t save you if you send the wrong message to a patient at the wrong time. But luckily you can use your patient data as a springboard for better outreach strategies, hitting all the right notes at all the appropriate moments.

Here’s how.

Keep a close eye on the patient’s journey.

Business marketers are well acquainted with the customer’s journey, which unfolds (roughly) in three stages: awareness, interest, and final decision. And while this model may not sync up directly with the usual patient’s journey, the principles are largely the same.

Bear in mind much of your patient-facing content will likely correspond to a specific point in the patient trajectory, which begins with basic research and moves all the way through to follow-up care. As you craft content stockpiles in the form of emails, texts, infographics, pamphlets, eBooks, etc., ask yourself:

  • How far along is the patient/target audience member in their treatment? Is the person consuming your content new to the practice? A seasoned regular? Somewhere in between?
  • Is this information useful at this moment? Does your content address the patient’s current symptoms/stage of illness? Is it meant to be preventative? Palliative? When would be the best time to hit “SEND”?

These questions will help you “journey map” your content rollouts, an efficient strategy for improving engagement along various touch points and ultimately boosting patient satisfaction.  

Consider your media carefully.

Be aware: Patients are bound to gravitate toward certain types of communication, meaning it’s always worth paying attention to patient behavior patterns on both the micro and macro levels.

Case in point:

If a patient in your clinic roster has a history of unopened emails, it might be helpful to mark them in your data depot as “phone call only” to avoid messages falling through the cracks.

But don’t forget to look at broader media trends.

Dynata reports 58% of patients prefer healthcare communications in digital format, so email, text, and social media should all be part of your outreach strategy.

Single-channel interaction is far from a sure bet and savvy marketers know messages stand a better chance of hitting home if they’re spread far and wide. As such, marketing and patient relations teams should explore an omnichannel approach, making the same information available in different forms to appeal to different consumer moods.

3. Make it cultural, not just procedural

If you remember nothing else about personalization, remember this:

Personalized strategy won’t mean a thing if your team can’t make empathy a priority from end to end.

Without a practice-wide culture of compassion, your personalization efforts run the risk of appearing hollow and, dare we say it, self-promotional. But if you demonstrate empathy in all aspects of procedure––from bedside manner to inter-office communications, to overarching policy––your personalized outreach will be reinforced by a solid foundation of genuine action.

Put another way: You’ll be walking the walk.

Without a practice-wide culture of compassion, your personalization efforts run the risk of appearing self-promotional.

Liam Burns, Decibel

You can encourage cultural compassion by offering opportunities for patient feedback via surveys, virtual town halls, or patient advocate consultations, allowing your teams to identify challenges and tackle them head on.

You can also embed empathy into your day-to-day processes by extending emotional support to patient family and friends. An excellent example is Carle Foundation Hospital’s “CaringBridge” program, which helps patients launch private websites highlighting their medical progress, meaning friends and family can stay up to date and assuage concerns in real time.

Personalization debrief

“Today’s consumer values a positive user experience as much as (if not more than) the cost of the products they’re purchasing. As a result, they’ve come to expect a customer-centric marketplace where personalized experiences can become a make-or-break factor.”

Liam Burns, Decibel

If personalized communications can make or break a business, they can surely elevate or decimate a healthcare service provider.

Before your next patient interaction:

  • Centralize all clinical and behavioral data to get to know your patient beyond their name, cultivate their trust, and avoid the “just a number” pitfall.
  • Sync your communications to specific points in each patient’s healthcare journey but be sure to remain agile by working with more than one channel (to meet patients where they are).
  • Take steps to implement a practice-wide culture of empathy so these strategies are backed by real-world compassionate behavior.   

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