A Prescription for Healthcare Marketing Analytics

In the healthcare space, electronic medical records, big data, and cloud computing are pushing patients, payers, and providers ever deeper into the digital ecosystem.  Digital measurement plays a vital role in healthcare but comes with a number of unique challenges.

Providing actionable insights to healthcare organizations and helping them prove ROI while protecting patient privacy requires thoughtful planning and implementation.  Measuring meaningful conversions and mapping customer journeys are common pain points for today’s medical marketer and product manager.

Empirical Path works closely with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, healthcare media, and wellness firms who increasingly embrace multi-channel marketing strategies and apps to reach and serve consumers.  Due to the complex and highly-regulated nature of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, digital marketing and analytics practice lags behind digital verticals like ecommerce and software as a service (SaaS), but the future is getting brighter.  eMarketer predicts digital spend for health providers will have double-digit growth through 2020.

As medical marketing and apps mature, well-planned, longer-term measurement strategies will deliver the most valuable results.  Keep reading to understand these best practices for meeting the unique challenges of healthcare head-on with analytics:

  1. Protecting Patient Privacy Online
  2. Measuring Medical Marketing Conversions
  3. Tracking Healthcare Customer Journeys
Protecting Patient Privacy can be a challenge for healthcare marketing analysts
HIPAA Demands Healthcare Marketers Adhere to Strict Patient Privacy Standards

Protecting Patient Privacy

In the health services industry, regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and now the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) add strict limitations on who and what you can track.

Even before you and the company lawyer dig into the details of web analytics compliance with HIPAA, you should be aware that Google Analytics already requires and enforces careful handling of sensitive user information.  While compliance with Google Analytics data privacy rules is not the same as HIPAA coverage, it’s an ethical first step toward genuinely respecting your users’ right to privacy.

It also keeps you out of trouble with Google.

Respecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) protects your company.  We often help new analytics customers understand that even small infractions can run afoul of Google Analytics’ policies.  For example, it’s not uncommon to see traits like username or email address passed into the URL when accessing authenticated sections of websites or email landing pages.  Though it may seem like a minor issue, it’s a violation of Google’s PII rules and can lead to termination of your Google Analytics account and deletion of your historical data.  This is an important checkpoint we always include in our web analytics audits for clients.

For web and mobile apps requiring authentication by patients and practitioners, we often supplement Google Analytics by implementing tools such as Mixpanel that allow more user-level information.  With privacy protections in place, People Profiles in Mixpanel can report user-level details provided during registration. Likewise, while Google Analytics prohibits PII collection, you can export app session information to third-party BI tools and link that data via GA’s userID feature to CRM or other data you’ve legally been given by registered users.

So, how do you earn your user’s trust and respect their right to privacy in this sensitive area of information gathering?

Leverage Content Groups and Custom Dimensions

Collecting Protected Health Information (PHI) or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) via web tracking is a definite no-go. Healthcare marketers still have plenty of options for measuring things like lifetime value (LTV) and per-user metrics without weakening user trust or encroaching on patient privacy.  Gathering aggregated and anonymized information provides plenty of useful data for building actionable segments and audience lists.

In Google Analytics, for example, content marketers can define and capture content traits through the use of Content Groups and/or hit-level Custom Dimensions.  These custom methods go beyond a default Google Analytics implementation to provide your organization with reports tailored to your business goals.

Use Content Groups to Identify Audience Affinity

Take for example a section of your website where content targets caregivers.  With a Content Group and/or hit-level Custom Dimension, you can label pages within this section as ‘Caregiver Resources’.  Even this kind of high level segmentation gets you much closer to understanding your users and providing compelling user experiences.  In your analytics reports, you can then compare how these content affinity groupings behave and convert differently on your site or mobile app.

Use Custom Dimensions to Group User Attributes

Though you can’t capture PII details like user name, birthdate, or email address in cloud-hosted analytics platforms like Google Analytics, healthcare marketers can capture more generic user traits like the Session-scoped Custom Dimension, “logged-in” vs. “not-logged in”.  Using Custom Dimensions, we have helped clients tie engagement with online coupons to likelihood to convert.  Similarly, a User-scoped Custom Dimension like “Patient” vs. “Non-Patient” would provide plenty of actionable insights around customer journey and the effectiveness of site features.  For clients marketing to physicians, we’ve even passed firmographics shared by each lead to marketing automation tools like Pardot into GA as Custom Dimensions.

Health organizations often need to educate users coming from various backgrounds and levels of literacy. Clever uses of Custom Dimensions can provide timely and relevant medical education content to wide-ranging audiences.  It just makes sense that a veteran medical practitioner is going to engage with your content differently than a first-time patient looking up pneumonia symptoms.

The power of well-implemented analytics can tempt marketers into blindly gathering as much specific information about their users as possible.  At Empirical Path, we strongly believe you can and you should protect patient privacy while still providing your users with effective, analytics-driven online experiences.

Medical Patient Undergoing Cat Scan
How can web analytics help healthcare providers with complex success measurements?

Measuring Medical Marketing Conversions

For many of our health and medical clients, successes often happen offline when patients do things like visit a facility, fill a prescription, or adopt a new fitness lifestyle, or physicians prescribe a treatment.  This presents a particular challenge for the medical marketer who needs to demonstrate the impact digital marketing exerts on final outcomes.

Here the grass is a little greener for online media or pure ecommerce businesses where goals are much more easily identified and captured.  Let’s face it, tracking online shopping cart purchases is easier than quantifying things like wellness and recovery.  This shouldn’t stop a product or marketing manager in the healthcare space from creating meaningful goals in their analytics platform.  When it comes to tracking conversions, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

It’s important to pause here and remember that much real-world analytics data is a close approximation based on sets of assumptions.  It’s OK to use proxy goals as long as they are useful and based on valid assumptions.  Test the correlation against reality every now and then and make sure your website conversions reflect what you’re actually seeing in the cash register.  Be sure to update your goals in Google Analytics with monetary values to get the most out of reporting.

For example, if your medical office accepts online appointment scheduling, the steps required to complete patient information and submit the appointment request can still be measured as a conversion funnel.  Often times, these scheduling tools are a third-party platform, so it might require further steps to enable cross-domain tracking.  Other micro-conversions can serve as proxies too, like clicking on a toll-free number from a mobile device, requesting additional information via a contact form or online chat, watching a video, clicking to driving directions, tracking coupon clicks, or downloading a PDF.

Medical Students at a Hospital
The path to wellness can be long and complex. Advanced marketing analytics helps map that journey.

Tracking Healthcare Customer Journeys

Whether you are serving payers, practitioners, or patients, charting their progress through an online customer journey helps you discover gaps, opportunities, and pain points in your online experience.  Web and app analytics tools alone never paint the entire picture of your total customer experience.  But, using those tools to chart user flow across multiple sessions, devices, and marketing touchpoints can greatly inform a complete customer journey map.  Use online analytics to enrich the full story and back it up with data.  Drawing on methods described above—using custom dimensions and content groupings to build segments, and using proxy goals for key conversions—you can use your analytics tools to identify unique customer types and note the different (or similar) ways they go about completing tasks and moving through funnels.

Discover Actual Customer Journeys with User Explorer Report

Instead of guessing, actually see how your most valuable or typical customers are interacting with your site over time.  Visit the User Explorer report in Google Analytics and filter the list of anonymized users via a custom GA Segment to get your candidates.  Start at the top of the list, sorted by revenue or number of sessions and spend a little time looking through session history for a few different id’s to get a real-world sense of how your users are or are not accomplishing tasks on your site or app.

Google Analytics User Explorer
Google Analytics User Explorer Reports are pure gold for turning up real-world user journeys

Top Conversion Paths Report Reveals Marketing Touchpoints

When it comes to understanding how your marketing efforts are drawing users through the customer journey, the Top Conversion Paths report in Google Analytics is another great place to derive useful insights.  Discussions about first vs last vs distributed touch attribution models have their place when it comes to budget allocation, but for customer journey mapping, you can dispense with all that and focus instead on what mix of channels and campaigns most often result in a success for you and your users.

Like with the User Explorer Report, there are often surprises and “aha” moments when reports don’t exactly match our preconceptions. Occasionally, especially for this report, those “aha” moments are realizations that your campaign tracking and attribution data maybe aren’t in great shape.  That’s never a happy insight, but it is definitely a useful one.  It’s also not that uncommon.  Let us know how we can help.

Assuming your analytics data is in good shape and traffic sources are mapped to channel categories and groupings that are meaningful to your business, these reports help marketing teams avoid tunnel-vision and embrace the impact of marketing mix and attribution over time.

Google Analytics Top Conversion Paths Screengrab
The Top Conversion Paths report in Google Analytics provides lots of options for understanding marketing mix

Google Analytics provides a rich set of reports that should be a starting point for understanding and charting your customer journey.  Instead of guessing, opinions, and over-reliance on anecdote, begin to understand the customer experience with real-world insights based on solid, validated web and mobile analytics data.

An Opportunity for Clever Healthcare Marketers & Analysts

We have covered a few of the many measurement tactics that can help healthcare service providers protect everyone’s privacy, incorporate intelligent conversion measurement, and better understand the customer journey.

Though not as straightforward as other industries, healthcare digital measurement offers plenty of options for creative product and marketing analysts.  The specialty is growing too.  Medical marketing is evolving and embracing more advanced digital strategies.

There’s no end in sight to the influx of healthcare data, so organizations have to be agile enough to adapt while adhering to regulations—no easy feat.  If you’re a healthcare marketer or product manager, contact us to discuss your most pressing measurement challenges.

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