Data analytics is the science of analyzing raw data to draw conclusions about information that could otherwise be buried. Healthcare marketing uses analytics to measure the effects of touchpoints to the end user.

Medical marketing reporting is important in helping understand how scientific content is delivered, disseminated, and consumed. With the emergence of big data in 2016 and healthcare quality measures, the concept was integrated into pharmaceutical marketing by extracting data from stored databases to identify trends. The landscape has grown and customers now want to understand who the audience is, what content they are engaging with, and how the information will be used as a result. This is where targeting at the user level entered.

According to Zach Gursky, Sr. VP of Digital Sales at Healio, traditional key performance indicators (KPIs) such as click throughs, impressions, and website traffic, have been used to assess media performance. “Digital advertising changes most dramatically as industry builds practice. KPIs are critical in determining the anticipated result and guide strategy. This in turn helps to create the analytical basis for targets that yield effective decision making.”

Measuring Outcomes

Just as big data can be generated by methods beyond traditional data processing applications, so too are the KPIs being assessed. Companies that offer more than measuring click throughs, impressions, and website traffic to assess media performance have an advantage in today’s market.

Outcomes in analytics are based on measuring impact. Over a decade ago,  outcome measurements took hold in the continuing medical education (CME) field with companies creating activities that sought to measure the level of change in physician behavior and impact on patients after clinicians attended an educational event or by listening to a didactic presentation. It evolved from using pre-test/post-test models to retrospective chart reviews to measure level of change in population health. Another consideration not to be ignored is the legal and ethical responsibilities related to patient health information and confidentiality.

A New Reality

Increasingly, outcome measurements are tied in part to data analytics, and healthcare communication businesses are turning to better targeting and reporting. However, at the same time, regulators, large tech platforms, and customers are leading a headwind that will make it harder to associate physician-level data with promotional campaigns in the future. Just one example of this is the privacy law enacted by the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA), which gives consumers more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them.

Changes like this mean companies must work with partners who are anticipating the evolving landscape of technical and regulatory shifts and have access to more data to drive smarter marketing decisions. For instance, companies that have a direct relationship with healthcare providers can obtain their permission to identify who they are and an agreement to be sent news or topics based on their preferences.

Analytics and Privacy

With greater focus on analytics and more pressure to be first comes the responsibility for those who hold personal data to ensure privacy. Tracking clinician performance is more sophisticated than ever before, and professional sites can even connect user-end-level data back to actions. For example, through placement optimization different types of advertisements can appear at days and times when users are most likely to interact with the education. But every person should have the choice to opt in or out. That data should also not be shared.

Companies must take that point very seriously. All marketers must respect opt out features. Creating environments where pharma marketers can reach audiences more efficiently based on audience interest can show how a program might change clinical behavior.

More Precise Impact

How do analytics help reach the audience it is meant to target and help companies assess the impact?

Dave Ruppel, Sr. VP of Analytics at Healio, notes that “everyone is looking for outcomes. Most companies are measuring it through unique identifier information. It is about looking at content and tying that back to actions; therefore, it allows content developers to be more precise with pharma marketing money and helps drive content that is most relevant to healthcare professional learning. This efficiency allows for defining better tactics.”

Previously, market researchers assessed outcomes via geographical prevalence, population density, and learning what topics a user might need and find most challenging. Now, instead of these broad qualifiers, marketers use healthcare provider target lists and analyze the trajectories of patients given their healthcare professional investment. Rather than looking at a massive amount of data to understand where clinical gaps and needs exist, efficiencies using physician-level data, or script data that do not require many qualifiers are preferred.

This data specificity (physician-level data) is where the outcomes-based measurement truly shines. Looking at a standard conversion funnel, the top is broad awareness—simply being shown a brand and becoming familiar with it. The audience is brought down the funnel into education, or understanding the benefit, and eventually conversion, or changing behavior/taking action. Each stage of the funnel has KPIs associated with it. At the top of the funnel, we have very broad interaction metrics; at the bottom, more desirable conversions. Without the specificity, high-level and broad-digital media metrics (such as impressions, clicks, sends, or other top of the funnel metrics) are proxies for the actual desired outcome of the audience: return on investment or script lift at the bottom of the funnel.

Suppose a marketer is trying to reach a certain group of healthcare professionals to write a total of 100 more scripts (where appropriate). If they get 1,000 impressions (or any of the broad-media metrics listed above), did it work? Most marketers can look at historical data and say, “Our estimates show if we can get 100 impressions, that will likely lead to one script written.” From there, it is simple to build a campaign focused on getting a certain number of impressions. One hundred impressions become the proxy for one script written, albeit based on assumptions. With the data specificity available now, the preferred alternative is to simply measure exactly which tactics gave them additional scripts written and optimize efficiency. Skip the proxy and measure the outcome.

This field is brimming with excitement and optimism to embrace the new world as it changes. Companies that deliver contextually relevant education while providing information on the users abiding by changing privacy regulations will be set for success.


Bercerra, X. (2018). California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

  • Adrienne Stevens, EdD, MBA

    Adrienne Stevens, EdD, MBA is Vice President, Head of Scientific Strategy at Healio Strategic Solutions. Over the course of her diverse career, Adrienne has been recognized as an innovative team leader in Medical Affairs and in medical education. Adrienne is committed to advancing medical excellence and alliances for ongoing competitive advantage with creativity and passion.


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