Optimizing government public health and healthcare communications with real-world data

By Daniel Glazier, principal, government team

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated how vital government communications can be for effective public health, particularly using the right channels, at the right time, with the right message. 

Though not always front-page headlines, a number of federal agencies have a significant and long-standing charge and commitment to regular public health and healthcare communications. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are accountable for communications related to everything from promoting health and behavior change to program enrollment. 

These responsibilities involve campaign design and delivery, including target audience research, creative and messaging development, etc., and, therefore, present novel challenges. Following are illustrative examples of a few types of health communications challenges:

  • Promoting health and behavior change to tackle healthcare disparities - How do we understand and target certain populations by sociodemographics and health condition(s)? As an example, Black and Hispanic individuals between ages 20-40 with diabetes. How do factors like geography (region, state, rural, urban) affect this population, and how can we identify optimal campaign channels and messaging to best reach specific audiences and segments?

  • Enrolling the right populations in government programs - How can government agencies leverage industry to promote the successful enrollment of low-income and/or other vulnerable populations in appropriate publicly-funded health and social benefit programs? Examples include Medicare, Medicaid, the healthcare Marketplace, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). What does the most effective outreach, education, and communication campaign effort look like, and how can we measure its impact to know if it worked?

  • Enabling aligned tobacco cessation communications - How can tobacco cessation efforts effectively and efficiently align channel and messaging efforts to reach audience segments across the youth smoking population? How can we understand the clinical context —  in a specific population, are individuals receiving counseling, what pharmacological supports are in use, and what is intent to quit vs. actual quit rates?

Real-world complexity demands real-world understanding

Notable public health campaign failures are often driven by insufficient audience targeting and/or a lack of real-time campaign performance and impact insights, including a failure to detect unintended consequences. 

To effectively target audiences, campaigns must start with a nuanced understanding of patient and consumer behavior at a very granular level. Gaining this understanding requires knowledge both from a healthcare perspective such as diagnosis and prescription fills and from a consumer perspective such as demographics, socio-economics and lifestyle preferences, known as social determinants of health (SDOH). 

Real-world data (RWD) from sources like medical and pharmacy claims, electronic medical records, lab results, hospital chargemasters, and a variety of consumer sources, can effectively and efficiently provide these granular insights. This requires:

  • Fit-for-purpose, HIPAA-compliant healthcare and consumer data at the individual transaction level 
  • Multiple data types spanning healthcare and consumer sources
  • An analytic environment capable of managing the legal and privacy requirements for the analyses of this data  

HealthVerity Audience Manager provides a self-directed analytics environment where you can synchronize the healthcare and SDOH data of your choice from the nation’s largest, interoperable and privacy-protected healthcare and consumer data ecosystem, as well as your own proprietary data, while remaining fully HIPAA compliant. This provides more granular demographic insights and a deeper understanding of patient behavior that allows you to determine a campaign strategy, develop aligned and personalized content, and use targeting and activation to find the right audience. You can then perform testing and learn which channels drive which behaviors so you can augment your strategy.

Measuring real-time impact

Public health campaigns can also fail to reach their potential  due to a lack of real-time performance insights. The impact of public health campaigns is often measured by administering surveys to potential or actual recipients of the communications. These surveys, while providing valid insights, can be limiting in many ways:

  • Time-constrained - You have to wait several weeks after a campaign to learn about its impact. 

  • Costly to administer - You can incur a number of additional logistical and staff costs, as well as expenses for items such as survey design, printing, postage, analysis, etc.

  • Static - Surveys cannot provide insights beyond a ‘moment in time’ response, they do not offer a real-time view into recipient behavior change.

  • Biased - Surveys can be subject to a number of biases, such as survey bias, which is related to the design of the survey; sampling/selection bias, where the responding population does not represent the population of interest; and acquiescence bias, where respondents answer with what they believe the survey administrators want to hear. 

While still valuable, surveys can only get you so far. Technology and RWD now allow us to see impacts in real time, over time, based on outcomes of interest. HealthVerity Media Measurementaccurately synchronizes digital media ad and television exposure data with target audience healthcare data, providing real-time insights on actual patient behavior and the direct outcomes of your campaign. This allows you to make adjustments during the campaign based on performance to optimize results.

What does this mean when we put it in the context of our earlier example of promoting health and behavior change in Black and Hispanic individuals with diabetes? This means being able to follow whether individuals who received campaign messaging had improvements in their A1c lab scores or if hospitalizations were reduced. You can also see if the changes were sustainable. 

Together, Audience Manager and Media Measurement can address the challenges government agencies face in developing successful public health campaigns by ensuring you’re reaching the right audience, at the right time, with the right channels and messaging, and providing real-time campaign measurement to optimize your public health campaigns and ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Discover how you can optimize your public health communications:

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