Posted by Patrick McCafferty on February 25th, 2019

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on and has been republished here with permission.

Healthcare is a highly regulated industry. This has made it challenging to embrace some of the strategies and tools that have proven to be effective for marketers from other industries. However, this also gives healthcare marketers a unique opportunity to come up with their own solutions for reaching healthcare providers and consumers. Let’s explore all the ways in which savvy professionals can address healthcare marketing challenges with reaching and scaling audiences, assessing data quality, and measuring the success of their strategies and tactics.

Scale intelligently with the right data

Reaching the right targets is critical in healthcare marketing. There are only about 957,000 active licensed physicians in the entire U.S. This is miniscule when compared with the audiences of a CPG company or apparel brand. For example, if you’re a pharmaceutical company with a newly approved treatment for treating plaque psoriasis, the core of your marketing target would likely be dermatologists who routinely diagnose or prescribe to patients with the condition. In the U.S., this is approximately 14,000 physicians.

To identify them, it’s important to leverage all of the relevant data available to healthcare marketers, such as commercial and government medical claims data, which includes data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). These data sources, which are fully HIPAA compliant, identify the treating physician and the exact diagnosis or prescription for those patients, whether covered by a private insurer or Medicare.

With this richer data set to enable highly effective target audience segmentation, healthcare marketers can then evaluate and identify which digital channels will enable reach and scale while maintaining accurate targeting. The range of available channels could include professional content sources, highly targeted contextual and noncontextual programmatic advertising, social media, and even connected TV. These are all topics I’ll be touching on in the RampUp 2019 panel discussion, Connecting the Fragmented Data Ecosystem.

Assess the data quality for a more accurate and effective campaign

Healthcare marketers need to analyze the available data of the audiences they’re trying to reach and with what level of confidence they are targeting these contacts. In some industries, relative probabilistic matching is fine. In healthcare marketing, this methodology will not be accurate enough to deliver desired outcomes and may not even fall within some regulatory guidelines.

Marketers should first understand the difference between deterministic and probabilistic targeting. For a quick refresher, probabilistic targeting is based on lower accuracy methods of matching offline to online identities, creating some probability of reaching the intended audience. Deterministic targeting exposes your messages directly to an online audience that has been identified based on one-to-one offline-to-online data. Healthcare providers treating patients for very specific conditions like the plaque psoriasis example mentioned above, when linked to highly accurate and privacy-safe online identifiers, is an example of a deterministic data set. In marketing to healthcare providers, deterministic data targeting is critical to actually reaching these finite audiences.

When looking to assess the data, ask the data providers you’re collaborating with about their procurement and online identity resolution process. Here are some basic questions they should be able to answer:

  • How do you source and verify the accuracy of the data?
  • What range of offline data is available?
  • Is your identity resolution process deterministic and accurate?
  • What level of online segmentation is available?
  • What types of campaign measurement are available to help gauge the efficacy of the data?

The more deterministic the process, the more specific and accurate your data set will be, and the more success you’re likely to have with your healthcare marketing campaigns.

Determine how you’ll measure and track for success

Consumer marketers targeting larger audiences across channels are accustomed to being able to measure results in near-real time with point-of-sale and other purchasing data. Healthcare marketers have a more challenging task given the acute attention needed for regulatory compliance and the niche set of optimal targets for a given campaign. This challenge does not make effective measurement in healthcare marketing any less important than it is for other verticals.

Here are four steps healthcare marketers can take to get more sophisticated measurement strategies nailed down:

  • It all starts with data; you must have confidence that your messaging is reaching the exact right audience of healthcare professionals treating the patients who can be most positively impacted
  • Determine and source the best set of offline data and metrics associated to those target healthcare professionals you want to be able measure against
  • Work with your data onboarder to enable a privacy-safe process of linking your campaign impression data to your offline audience and measurement data
  • Utilize the best data analytics and business intelligence tools to gain insights into the ongoing behavior of your target audience

Just as healthcare marketers can learn a lot from their B2C colleagues, those who market to consumer audiences can also learn from healthcare marketers’ careful adherence to industry regulations and keen understanding of their work as it relates to larger goals: effective patient to provider communication, better preventative and ongoing care, shorter hospital stays, and healthier communities. The more we are thoughtful about trying to reach and engage with target audiences in a way that is aligned with their interests and needs, the better poised we’ll all be for future success.

Want to hear Bill speak on Connecting the Fragmented Healthcare Data Ecosystem, a panel discussion at RampUp 2019? Register for the conference here.