Marketing Frontier

Strategies for a data-driven marketing world


Healthcare communications — a work in progress

Posted by marketingfrontier on November 17, 2006

Over the past several weeks, we have received in our family two different phone calls from our health insurance provider.  Both of those calls illustrate the challenges involved in leveraging customer information to provide personalized communications and to reinforce relationships in data-driven marketing.

First I received a call myself from a nurse who asked me how my asthma condition was doing.  About four months ago I had had a persistent cough and received a one time prescription of a medication that is used also for asthma.  Apparently that was the stimulus that led to the phone call.  In response to her question about my asthma, I responded to her that my asthma was doing quite well since I had never had it.  She asked me about the medication, and I informed her that it was a one time medical condition that went away within one week of the prescription.  In this example, completeness of information was what was lacking.  A prescription on a one-time basis of a specific medication without a condition diagnosis of asthma was insufficient to truly identify a medical challenge that I might be facing.  As a result, I was left with the impression that my health insurance provider was well-meaning, well-intentioned, but ultimately inept.

The second encounter that my family had was when my wife was contacted by a nurse regarding her chemotherapy treatment and potential side effects.  My wife, who is a breast cancer survivor, did indeed have chemotherapy, so it does appear that their diagnosis was in fact correct.  However the one fact that apparently they missed was that my wife had completed her treatment over 18 months ago.  The most meaningful side effects that she had to deal with occurred in the six to eight months after the chemotherapy.  By the end of 18 months they had effectively missed the window.  As a result, I was left again with the impression that my health insurance provider was well-meaning well-intentioned but ultimately inept.

What was the objective of these two phone calls?  I believe the purpose of the calls were twofold.  First, to reinforce a relationship between the health insurance provider and a member who may be facing specific health challenges.  By providing additional information, the phone calls can help members take charge of their own health, improving their condition in both the short and long term.  In addition, since these proactive calls can lead to improved health outcomes, the net impact can be to reduce the cost of the employer as well.  So the strategy behind these proactive customer contacts makes a great deal of sense.

Now let’s get to execution.  These two phone calls illustrate two of the challenges in using customer data to create personalized relationships with individual consumers.  First the business rules that leverage the data to come to a specific conclusion must be checked to ensure their accuracy and completeness.  Otherwise it’s very possible that you will be calling to address issues that a particular customer may not have.  Second, timing is everything in this world.  As the data gets older and older, the value of using that data diminishes.  Eventually using that data actually achieves the opposite of reinforcing customer relationships; it convinces the customer that the company doesn’t know anything about them at all.

Now, I do not wish to diminish the appropriateness of such customer contacts by a health insurance provider.  It is clear that they are trying very hard to build a relationship, improve outcomes, and ultimately address the very real issue of rising health care costs in America.  This is a wonderful object.  However, business rules and data recency must be considered in order to achieve their objective.  If not, what you convince customer is that the company, well-intentioned as it may be, is ultimately just like everyone else.


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