Driving Actionable Insight with Big Data That Makes a Difference

What impressed me most in reading Fortune’s recent profile of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes was not that she started her clinical diagnostics company, Theranos, at the age of 19. Not that the company’s proprietary technology can perform up to 70 tests on just 25 to 50 microliters of blood—1/1,000 of a fluid ounce—drawn virtually painlessly. Not that Theranos can turn the results of those tests in hours, rather than days, for a fraction of what independent and hospital labs charge. And not that they plan to establish collection centers within five miles of virtually every American city.

What impressed me most was how she articulated her company’s mission—“to provide access to actionable information at the time it matters.”

By making diagnostics quick, inexpensive, convenient and far more informative, Theranos aims to transform lab testing—on which 70% of clinical decisions are currently based—from a sporadic process generating at most a handful of data points per patient per year into a rich, trending and predictive data stream that can drive improved outcomes and lowered health-system costs.

Healthcare’s Expanding Use of Big Data

Theranos is not alone in seeing the future of healthcare in Big Data.

  • In the Boston Biotech Corridor, GenoSpace has developed software systems for securely storing vast amounts of genomic and health data and providing a clinically actionable interpretation to pathology groups, clinical laboratories, health systems, physicians and others to support precision medicine.
  • The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s integrated payer/provider network is now combining traditional medical and prescription claims and census data with socioeconomic, demographic and consumer purchasing data to develop sophisticated predictive models that can identify and recommend interventions for patients at high risk of poor outcomes.
  • Within weeks of each other, Apple and Google announced platforms to capture and aggregate health data—not only from the ubiquitous mobile fitness apps, but also from a wide range of wearable devices and biometric sensors—and to integrate it with EMR and clinical decision-support systems to drive more timely care and better outcomes.

Across the entire healthcare spectrum—from pharma to medtech to diagnostics, and from payers to providers—decision-makers are turning to Big Data to “provide actionable information at the time of need” for two reasons.

First, because they can. The rapid proliferation of health data from social media and tracking devices, combined with new technologies and techniques for making sense of masses of unstructured data—and, perhaps more crucial, consumers’ increasing willingness to share personal data if they can see a clear benefit in return—make this trend possible.

Second, because they must. The shift in healthcare systems everywhere from paying for activities to paying for outcomes makes it imperative.

However, without behavioral-change strategies based on deep insight into the needs, values and behaviors of providers and patients, more data alone will not yield a healthcare ecosystem of HCPs actively and methodically working with patients to drive improved outcomes and patients proactively managing their own health.

The Marketer’s Role in a Data-Driven World

Insight-based behavioral change is marketing’s wheelhouse. So, as healthcare marketing strategists, we need to ask ourselves, where do we begin in this new, data-driven world? What role can, and should, we play? With whom should we partner?

Many pharmaceutical companies have created marketing centers of excellence and are redefining relationship marketing with the goal of helping and supporting their patient and HCP customers. And they’re putting less emphasis on short-term script lift. While the “Pill+Information+Service” brand model is still more vision than reality, Novo Nordisk has made significant advances in Cornerstones4Care, their diabetes patient support program.

Sanofi’s The DX site takes an even more ambitious franchise approach to addressing diabetes, integrating social (Diabetes blog, Facebook, Twitter and Diabetapedia); devices (iBGStar); education (CDE Help team portal, A1C Champions Online and Diabetapedia); support (GoMeals, Lantus Connections, Striving Forward, A1C Champions, and Diabetes Co-Stars); and treatments (Apidra and Lantus).

The Challenges for Marketers

The looming challenge for healthcare marketers is twofold. First, to broaden the data on which the design of our programs is based in order to make them truly evidence-based. Second, to capture the data they, in turn, generate and feed it back into the larger health ecosystem, to make our programs truly accountable, not just in terms of sales but the metrics that truly matter today: Outcomes and cost.

Can we make a real difference?

Machiavelli’s insight that, “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things” is indisputably true.

However it is equally true that there is nothing more exciting…or that matters more.


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