The healthcare industry is one of the largest, most complex industries in the United States, and that size and complexity mean it’s one of the most difficult for marketers to operate in.
Adding to that difficulty is the fact American patients are extraordinarily expectant and demanding healthcare consumers—they want their healthcare experience to be second to none.
For those reasons, the healthcare industry is working furiously hard to adopt new practices and place increased emphasis on new areas of focus—like data and analytics—to improve marketability to new communities and patient pools.
By the time you finish this article, you will understand…
- What big data is in the context of healthcare.
- How analytics are used to make sense of that data.
- Why data and analytics matter for the healthcare industry.
What is “big data” in healthcare?
“Big data” in the context of healthcare “refers to the abundant health data amassed from numerous sources. In clinical applications, this includes sources like electronic health records (EHRs), medical imaging, genomic sequencing, payor records, pharmaceutical research, wearables, and medical devices.” In healthcare marketing, sources of big data may include website platforms, search engines, social media sites, and online review sites, among others.
Unlike other forms of data available to hospitals and healthcare networks, big data is difficult to make sense of. Not only is it vast in nature, but it’s incredibly dynamic, drawing from an ever-expanding set of sources across the healthcare industry (and usually in real time).
The sheer depth, diversity, and fluidity of information encompassed by big data means it’s incredibly difficult to translate into functional intelligence—the kind healthcare decision makers can use to improve the way they do business.
What are “analytics” in healthcare?
“Analytics” are how healthcare marketers overcome the challenges of data (depth, diversity, fluidity). Using analytics, healthcare marketers can interpret large sets of data, translating them into actionable intelligence that can be used for improved real-world decision making.
Why Data and Analytics Matter for the Healthcare Industry
Every day, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created (to put that in some semblance of perspective, 2.5 quintillion pennies would cover every square inch of the Earth FIVE times over). As time marches on, that data is only going to become more voluminous and complex, particularly with the ascension of the Internet of Things (IoT devices like smartphones, smart watches, smart speakers, fitness trackers, etc.).
But here’s the rub—data can only help health systems and healthcare marketers if it can be understood, and understanding has challenges.
Challenge #1 - Volume
The volume of data created and exchanged each day is enormous, making it difficult to quantify and process.
Challenge #2 - Velocity
With more Internet-enabled sensors and devices available than ever before, data is streaming at a rapid speed, making it a challenge to capture and analyze.
Challenge #3 - Variety
Big data comes from a diverse set of sources, meaning it must be properly categorized for the purposes of analytics.
Challenge #4 - Veracity
One of the biggest challenges enterprises face today is assessing the completeness and accuracy of their data, especially when that data is being used to influence business decisions.
What it means in the context of healthcare
The amount of data available on and in the healthcare industry is mind-boggling.
Hidden inside that sea of information are valuable insights about the behaviors, preferences, and vulnerabilities of American healthcare consumers.
Insights healthcare providers can use to:
- Better understand the needs of their patients.
- Deliver more personalized (and effective) care.
- Improve the operational efficiency of their organizations.
The healthcare industry is dragging its feet
Yet in spite of this, many healthcare organizations are struggling to establish systems and invest in tools that will allow them to capitalize on all the data available to them. A poll of more than 100 hospital technology executives surveyed in 2017 found that more than half (56%) of organizations stated they do not have comprehensive, enterprise-wide information governance plans in place.
Much of this struggle is tied to a lack of resources, but some of it is a consequence of head-in-the-sand syndrome, where healthcare providers devote too much of their attention to day-to-day operational demands (e.g. patient safety, adequate staffing, etc.) and too little of their attention to long-term planning (e.g. improving operational processes, strategic marketing, securing patient health information, etc.).
Overcoming these obstacles is something healthcare providers must address in 2019, as it is only through a clear and focused investment in data management and analytics that they will obtain the insights necessary to make needle-moving decisions that deliver improved results for their patients, physicians, support staff, and facilities as a whole.