A Prescription for Healthcare Marketing Analytics

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The advent of electronic medical records, big data, and cloud computing solutions for healthcare continues to push patients, payers, and practitioners ever deeper into the digital ecosystem. On top of that we saw explosive growth in telehealth amid the pandemic, with healthcare organizations like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seeing a 1000% increase in video sessions. Healthcare marketing analytics plays a vital role in this space but comes with a number of unique challenges.

Empirical Path works closely with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, healthcare media, and wellness firms.  Providing actionable insights to healthcare marketers and helping them prove ROI while protecting patient privacy requires thoughtful planning and implementation.  Measuring meaningful conversions, and capturing customer journeys are common pain points for today’s medical marketer.

Healthcare marketers increasingly embrace multi-channel marketing strategies to effectively target and convert 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).  The future is getting brighter, however.  eMarketer predicts digital spend for health providers will continue to have double-digit growth.

As medical marketing matures, well-planned, longer-term marketing measurement strategies will deliver the most valuable results.  Here are a few tested best practices for meeting the unique challenges of healthcare head on with marketing analytics.


Protecting Patient Privacy

In the healthcare space, regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and now the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) add layers of complexity and strict limitations on top of 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.  Let us be clear, compliance with Google Analytics data privacy rules is not the same as HIPAA coverage, but it’s an ethical first step toward genuinely respecting your users right to privacy.

Respecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) also protects your company.  We often help new analytics customers understand that even small infractions can quickly run afoul of Google Analytics’ policies.  For example, it’s not uncommon to see traits like user ID or email address passed into the URL when accessing authenticated sections of websites.  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.

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

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 metrics-per-user without weakening user trust or encroaching on everyone’s 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 page 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 and effective 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.

Digital marketers in 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.


Measuring Healthcare Marketing Conversions

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

Here the grass really is greener for marketers working in 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 marketer in the healthcare space from creating meaningful goals in their analytics platform.  When it comes to tracking conversions, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  

Use Proxy Goals to Measure Conversions

It’s important to pause here and remember that much of 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.  Run a correlation audit against reality every now and then and make sure your website conversions reflect what you’re actually seeing in the patient records. 

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 might be located on a third-party platform, so it may 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 us form or online chat, clicking to driving directions, tracking coupon clicks, or downloading a PDF.  

So, Who’s Up To The Challenge?

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

Though not as straightforward as other industries, healthcare marketing measurement offers plenty of options for clever and creative 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 Marketers have to be agile enough to adapt while adhering to regulations—no easy feat.  If you’re a healthcare marketer, contact us to discuss your most pressing measurement challenges.

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