Amplifying Digital's Gravitational Pull in Healthcare


It was a matter of survival, but now the stakes have changed.

Coming out of the recession, healthcare organizations were forced to focus on cost-cutting and efficiency gains, while adopting Meaningful Use and Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, all within an increasingly value-based and outcomes-focused economic model. The healthcare industry found itself juggling a portfolio of scattered, disconnected systems, often forced to focus a majority of efforts into saving time and money in a new regulatory framework.

During the same post-recession time period, a new consumer – one willing to flex their buying power in exchange for experiences that make them feel valued, cared for and understood – emerged, and irrevocably changed consumer decision-making criteria. Today, the vast majority of consumers prioritize experiences that are seamless, authentic and human over all other purchasing decisions, even price.[1]

It’s the perfect storm for healthcare: mounting cost pressures and regulatory-driven changes, which by nature are anything but human, coupled with increasingly experience-sensitive customer demands. But that storm, and the unique access healthcare organizations have to consumer data, presents a singular opportunity for healthcare. In an economy where every organization, in every industry, is scrambling to create engaging, differentiating experiences, healthcare can do more than improve their current customer experience – they can be market leaders in the delivery of seamless digital engagement.  

Today, the average American patient spends just 13-16 minutes per year with their healthcare provider. However, that same patient spends 52 hours searching for healthcare information online.

Today, the average American patient spends just 13-16 minutes per year with their healthcare provider.[2] However, that same patient spends 52 hours searching for healthcare information online.[3] And 54 percent of millennials look online before choosing a doctor.[4] Healthcare consumers are increasingly online before, after and in-between those 13-16 minutes. For higher value care, healthcare providers need to be there, too. 

Being online in the right way starts by bridging the interaction gap between public sites and the detailed EHR systems. In this piece we will detail a process which does that by merging and applying explicit data (the kind customers provide) and implicit data (the kind obtained from context, such as device location, which can help identify geo-specific issues, like disease outbreak and seasonal allergies) for engagement that is seamless, authentic and distinctly human. The current system – where engagement is primarily limited to those 13-16 minutes – is the result of disconnected data delivered on platforms that are laughably impersonal. By bridging that gap healthcare organizations can immediately impact experience, enabling higher-quality engagement, personalization, value and trust – starting well before consumers are even patients.


A cohesive, data-rich experience, guided by human principles, offers healthcare organizations and consumers previously unimaginable opportunities. For healthcare providers and systems it opens the door for greater adherence, better outcomes, higher-quality interaction time and even improvements to cost of care through improved understanding, compliance and fewer readmits. 

For healthcare consumers it offers greater simplicity, confidence and the benefit of playing a more proactive role in their health. And for that benefit consumers are statistically more “sticky”: Information that is easy to gather, understand, compare and trust makes consumers nine percent more likely to repurchase, and 115 percent more likely to recommended the experience to others.[5]

But simply building the connected experience and establishing the principles of personalization is not enough. To realize the full breadth of opportunities, healthcare organizations must then initiate engagement through a strategy focused on context, curation and conversation.

Context: The right time and content channel for each person.

Defining when and how to engage with consumers is step one. In order to effectively establish context, healthcare organizations must collate all explicit and implicit data to create a comprehensive and clear consumer profile.

In most cases, doing this comprehensively requires organizations to work cross-functionally. The silos between clinical operations, billing, scheduling, marketing and patient experience must be broken down to effectively connect the many sources of consumer data into one seamless experience. Even with the best of intentions, each of these individual business groups are only capable of quick-fix stop-gaps on their own. Together they can establish context, the foundation of an authentically human experience, working as one to power effective, cohesive customer experience (CX).

Curation: Relevant, personalized information.

In between the generic, informational content presented on most health system public sites and the highly specific and personal EHR-backed data available in most patient portals is a yet-unexplored middle ground: curated content and information. This is highly relevant content served up on a site or app in a friendly and understandable way. 

Here’s how it could work. Perhaps you know that a potential patient came to your site from a Google search for “best hospitals for delivering babies.” You also know the consumer’s geographic area; an area that happens to be suffering from a whooping cough outbreak. From these implicit data sources a seamless platform could curate a digital experience that showcases pediatric expertise, and proactively offers tips for preventing the spread of whooping cough. These opportunities are magnified when coupled with EHR-housed data for established patients. It’s not creepy, it’s curation, and it endears a prospective patient before a single in-person interaction has taken place.


Personalization in healthcare walks a fine line. When done right it combines a customized set of data and a caring human touch to generate a meaningful interaction that can be given back to the consumer over a sustained period of time.

When it’s not done well, personalization can be a major resource drain, or worse, a major source of creepiness in the form of robotic touchpoints or consumer information used in unwelcome ways. And because of the inherently personal and confidential nature of healthcare and the information providers are trusted with, the risk of crossing into creepy is uniquely high.

To achieve that sweet spot – personalization that efficiently demonstrates care, not creepiness – healthcare organizations first need to clearly articulate four principles of personalization. These principles are later stood up with tools, data and input, serving as the framework around which all engagement is designed and executed.

The Four Principles of Personalization

1) Know your “why.” Start with a crystal-clear brand vision and weave it into every patient interaction. What do you stand for? What is the purpose of your organization? How are you communicating that in your physical and digital spaces?

2) Show that you know them. Once you have an established brand, it’s time to show patients that they are more than just a number. Healthcare can borrow from best practices in hospitality and retail to arm frontline employees and inform digital systems with the information they need to demonstrate understanding and customization.

3) Know when they need you. Understanding a customer profile is critical to understanding when healthcare providers are needed in it. A highly customized consumer profile is most powerful when the clinical data – pregnancy, acute injury, long-term illness – is matched with the non-clinical – they prefer to be contacted via text between 8 AM and noon, for example – and applied systematically to guide all digital engagement.

4) Be there when they need you. This is the ultimate culmination of the previous three principles. By bringing together partially known (cookied), known (log-in) and clinically known (linked medical records) data healthcare providers can be there when – and how – consumers need them. Consider a seasonal allergy sufferer, logged in from a location with exceptionally high pollen counts, getting proactive clinical advice coupled with a little non-clinical commiseration?

Conversation: An engagement that is facilitated with the right background information and experiential set-up.

Thirteen to 16 minutes per year. The time crunch means less dialogue, less trust and ultimately, less than optimal outcomes. Without changing the clinical dynamic, healthcare organizations can design conversations to take place before and after in-person interaction to make the best use of limited time, foster consumer trust, and encourage higher-quality care.

Take an example from one of North Highland’s financial services clients. Before a scheduled meeting with a financial advisor one major global bank asks its customers to answer a series of interactive questions via an online tool. The questions, which establish the basics around a customer’s current financial situation and goals, are compiled to generate an agenda for the upcoming meeting. The financial advisor is armed with the information, and can prepare in advance to present personalized products and scenarios.

What if patients came to appointments armed with agendas? What if providers were able to think through testing needs and treatment options in advance? Would that free up time and emotional capacity to build relationships and deliver next-level care, even in just 13-16 minutes?


The technical challenge of creating a cohesive digital experience for patients is eased by a growing catalogue of engagement management systems, such as Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager, designed to bridge the gap between a healthcare provider’s EHR systems and their generic public-facing sites and apps. The engagement management systems match explicit data (like that found in EHRs) and business rules to deliver personalization in a powerful, cohesively branded way for healthcare organizations. But this very digital system requires very human input on the four principles of personalization in order to demonstrate care, not creepiness. So while early movers in healthcare have already adopted engagement management systems, most have not fully realized its potential due to an inability to effectively power it with these human principles. 


This is the beginning. Creating a seamless digital platform, carefully informed by the principles of personalization, and driven to deliver on context, curation and conversation, is the foundation. It is a foundation that enables ongoing learning and transformation, offering opportunities to continuously provide personalized experiences while healthcare consumers are on and off digital properties. It empowers healthcare organizations to get more ROI out of valuable data by mixing it with human insights to nurture consumer relationships and foster improved outcomes.

Healthcare organizations have a greater responsibility to deliver personalization, well before the patient enters the exam room. Healthcare consumers deserve more than a transactional, anonymous experience, especially considering the very personal nature of individual health. With those heightened responsibilities and expectations come incredible growth opportunities for healthcare organizations looking to securely position themselves in an experience- and outcome-driven economy.

Now is the time to secure a trusted position in the lifecycle of a healthcare consumer. By starting here, with a seamless digital platform that is both differentiating and transformation-ready, we help healthcare organizations get human and position themselves for future growth.

[1] “To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple,” Harvard Business Review, May 2012 

[2] 2016 Physician Compensation Report, Medscape, April 1, 2016

[3] “Online Health Research Eclipsing Patient-Doctor Conversations,” Makovsky Health, Sept. 9, 2013

[4]How Millennials shop for healthcare,” Nuance, Aug. 31, 2015


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