Just as healthcare treatments are becoming increasingly personalized, medical marketing efforts will soon be highly tailored to individual needs. The White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), the key commitments of which were announced by President Obama in late February, aims to further the cause of highly personalized medical care. The initiative centers on big data, aiming to help everyone, from medical professionals to patients, leverage vast troves of consumer health data in order to improve the quality of treatments while simultaneously minimizing the cost. Many in the healthcare community have high hopes for the project, with good reason: two-thirds of current precision health providers have seen a demonstrable improvement in patient outcomes, and three-quarters expect to generate business value within two years, according to SAP. For medical marketers, it also poses an interesting challenge. With the help of increasingly public consumer healthcare data, can marketers successfully publish content that’s as individually tailored as patients’ care?
Using Big Data to Zero In
As Fast Company reports, PMI will advance precision healthcare through the collaborative efforts of dozens of research institutions, universities, hospitals, tech, biotech, and pharma companies, and government organizations (here’s the full list). Of particular note will be a landmark, one-million-volunteer study by the NIH, the PMI Cohort Program, focusing on the interplay between genetics, lifestyle factors, and health, reports Science. The general goal is both to collect (and create) as much consumer health data as possible, making this information easy to share. As it stands, clinical research data, genetic databases, and patient electronic health records (EHRs) are heavily siloed into systems that can’t effectively communicate with each other. By creating open-access (or more-easily-accessed) databases, physicians and patients can, with increasing accuracy, select optimal treatment options for a patient’s unique medical history and diagnosis. This is critical, as 30-40% of patients are currently prescribed drugs whose adverse effects outweigh the benefits, according to the HUGO Journal. Meanwhile, similar diseases often require dramatically different treatments — Fast Company notes that there are 16 different types of kidney cancer, which, until recently, were treated identically. In this way, PMI gives patients greater jurisdiction over their health. With the help of EHR vendor initiatives and the creation data-sharing protocols, patients can seek out lower-cost options and decide how their personal data is used (they will soon have the option of donating it to research).
Medical Marketers Should Be Taking Note
This availability of patient data presents both an opportunity and a challenge for healthcare marketers. MM&M notes that, with personalized treatment becoming the status quo, patients will increasingly expect personalized healthcare marketing to match. The upshot is that generalized or mass-marketed techniques — which rely on the probability that a select minority of your audience has a target condition — may become less effective. In other words, medical marketers will have to use available patient data to target precise audience demographics with specific maladies. We’ve already seen signs of this trend in action: Facebook ads and Google AdWords search engine marketing (SEM), which enable sophisticated demographic targeting, are the two most popular digital advertising techniques used in healthcare, according to Greystone research. It will be interesting to see how medical marketing diversifies as consumer health data becomes publicized to an even greater degree. Digital marketers can already target patient groups by age, gender, location, interests, device, and any number of other categories — and it’s likely that marketing tools will become even more precise in the coming years.