Heather Whaling
Heather Whaling

By 2020, experts forecast that health-related data (which is currently doubling every three years) will double every 73 days. This is due, largely, to the ability of marketers to collect communications data from new technologies like IoT devices and apps. However, healthcare marketers now have the challenge of not only figuring out how to use that data to continue to innovate their own field, but also how that data should be used to drive larger business decisions within their organizations.

For too long, I’ve seen communications and business data siloed. Yet, as more data is available, we’re also seeing how this segmentation of strategy can lead to inefficiencies, avoidable customer experience issues and poor business outcomes. Instead, healthcare marketers should be analyzing their data through a business strategy lens to arm their leaders with insights that would better inform strategies impacting the organization.

In my experience, the three most impactful data metrics that communicators can use to help guide business decisions are: reputation management, audience targeting and business growth.

Reputation management

72 percent of patients use online reviews as their first step in finding a new doctor, meaning your online reputation is often the first impression for many patients. This is a prime opportunity for healthcare marketers to analyze the data from reviews to predict how the organization overall might be effected by future trending topics.

Competitive analysis. The good news about reputation management in the age of online reviews is that marketers can compare how consumers perceive your brand versus your competitors. By reviewing competitor reviews at regular intervals, healthcare marketers can determine what strengths or capabilities other brands have that is attracting your target audience.

For example, based on online conversations, you determine your audience values the extensive resources the massive hospital across town can provide.

That said, not only does this help with erroneous guesses, but you may also be able to uncover missed opportunities that make you stand out from the competitor in order to really own that space in the field.

So, where some people in reviews may like the resources, you also discover other patients who feel like a cog in the machine due to its size. While you may not be able to compete with the giant hospital on resources, you can provide a layer of intimacy that others can’t. This insight based on data can then strengthen your messaging, ensuring customers are aware of your positive differentiator.

Protecting against future threats. Communications data can be a powerful tool to protect your business’s reputation against future threats by identifying trends that could soon affect your industry.

For example, as cybersecurity showed early signs of becoming a major threat for all industries, healthcare organizations could have been increasing messaging around the security of their systems. By doing so, they’d position themselves as the secure option in the market exactly when cybersecurity became a concern for consumers. From a business perspective, it could have also fueled additional spending to bolster current security systems, especially since they’re now more than 32,000 intrusion attacks per day on healthcare organizations.

Audience targeting

According to a digital health consumer adoption survey, the information consumers find online directly impacts which drugs, doctors, and healthcare products they use:

• 56 percent of Americans who searched online for information about their symptoms have then proposed their own diagnosis to their physician based on that information.

• 62 percent of Americans have used the Internet to search for information about prescription drugs.

• Nearly 50 percent of Americans who have searched online for health information have asked their physician to prescribe or discontinue taking a specific drug based on information found.

Consumers are searching for answers and these searches provide healthcare marketers with valuable data about their audiences.

Tailoring your message. The search results consumers find are clearly powerful; healthcare organizations can’t afford to not show up. But how they show up is the challenge.

Just recently, we had a healthcare client approach us looking for more insight in social conversations surrounding nine different business lines. Based on the conversation data we’re able to analyze, we developed strategic recommendations to help inform content and strategy for upcoming campaign launches.

Whatever the data you’re analyzing is, you can use it to determine exactly what your audience cares about, then adjust messaging. Is your target audience posting forum questions about a particular treatment? What search terms led them to your website? Being able to determine what they’re looking for and what they care about allows you to better position yourself to be the solution they find.

Targeting platforms. Not only do you need to know what to say, you need to know where to say it. The old methods of blindly sending out mailers and brochures and hoping it reaches the right people just doesn’t work. For example, you may be aware of who’s making the purchasing decision at a hospital, but do you know what they’re reading? Do you know whom they’re speaking to before committing to a purchase? Marketers have this data and can turn it into strategies that reach the right stakeholders at the right time in the right place.

Recently, we were able to show a healthcare client that the message they wanted to tell would best be received on a social platform they’d never considered before: Tumblr. The nonprofit had assumed the best way to reach its audience was on the more well-used platforms, but in fact, there was an overlap of art and justice in the Tumblr community that would result in a higher ROI because that is where its target audience “lived.”


In an effort to grow, many companies jump on the innovation bandwagon, but misguided innovation can lead to wasted resources and lost time. Tapping into conversations around current trends can eliminate the risk of innovation and illuminate growth opportunities with new audiences.

Monitoring audience trends. Perhaps website analytics show an increasing number of patients are visiting your hospital from a mobile device. At the same time, conversations online revolve around the desire for quicker healthcare answers and reviews of your competitors applaud how easy it is to access information online. Instead of keeping these insights contained within the communications department, sharing them with the business development team could spark plans for an app, adoption of a social network with faster response time or a new tool like a chatbot or Alexa skill.

Your audience is telling you exactly what services they want, you just have to listen, instead of guessing.

Connecting with new audiences. If you discover a new niche for your organization that’s another opportunity to harness communications data.

Existing communications data around the topic (or lack thereof) can better inform the business strategy you are developing. Information on social media habits, SEO and search trends, purchase journeys and consumer values is readily available for communicators.

Too often, communicators gather valuable data, use it to guide their own strategies and then file away the insights they gained instead of breaking down silos and sharing it with other departments. Data-backed decisions are the key to success in the healthcare industry and it’s time for marketers to take a seat at the business table.


Heather Whaling is president and founder of Geben Communication in Columbus, OH. Connect with Heather on Twitter (@prTini).