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Healthcare sector needs to provide more personalised marketing to patients, says SAS and Cranfield

New report highlights the increasing importance of online and mobile channels for patient interaction

28 January 2012 - In order to build successful and happy patient relationships, healthcare providers need to improve their use of technology for patient interactions. That is according to a study conducted by business analytics company SAS and Professor Hugh Wilson of Cranfield School of Management.  Although the NHS and private healthcare providers have started to use a mix of online and offline channels to interact with patients, the increasing popularity of online and mobile channels presents a new opportunity to improve patients’ experiences and attitudes towards the healthcare sector.

According to the research, the healthcare sector faces unique communication challenges when it comes to patient interactions. Radio and television play a large role in patient engagement for both the NHS and private healthcare providers. However, the research shows that news dominating the broadcast channels creates a generally negative perception of the services offered. Interestingly, in contrast with patients' actual encounters with these services, the direct experience of the healthcare sector gained through visits to the doctor's surgery or hospital are very positively received. The main difference between the NHS and private healthcare providers here is that the latter is able to counteract the healthcare news agenda to a degree through their own promotions and sponsorship, improving the overall perception of the service.

In harnessing channels such as mobile and online, healthcare professionals can help reinforce the positive experiences of their services.  In light of recent news in the UK regarding thousands of patients being struck off their doctors’ practice lists with no warning, it is now more important than ever for the healthcare profession to act. If it is to minimize future complaints and any breakdowns in the provision of the service, it must acknowledge the needs of its patients and the information they require.

Overall, the survey showed online and SMS as promising ways for healthcare providers to build awareness of services and allow the patient to gather information or book appointments quickly and efficiently whilst on the go. However, existing interaction with these channels was relatively low, due to the amount of providers currently allowing this type of engagement. Other findings include:  

  • Patients engaged the most with channels such as radio, TV and newspapers. Despite this, their relevance to the patient in terms of the information provided on services was not as relevant or as impactful as in-surgery displays or posters
  • Mailings and leaflets were seen as useful information sources, but were rated as less relevant by patients   
  •  Sponsorship, such as adverts for local NHS services at football grounds, provided another great way of reaching out to patients on their nearest GP practices. However, the level of patient engagement through this channel was overall quite low
  • In-surgery and special displays, such as floor plans and maps in hospitals were generally positively received by patients

Charles Randall, Solutions marketing manager at SAS UK, said: "With so many different channels of communication now available, the healthcare sector needs to consider which of these are the most appropriate for patient interactions. Through making better use of SMS and online, patients can receive the information they need on a specific service over their preferred channel without worrying about queues, taking time out at work to make appointments or out-of-hours voicemail services. Understanding the patient lies at the heart of the smooth running of the healthcare service, and professionals in this sector need to work out what their patients want and how they want to receive the information. This is crucial to providing an acceptable and pleasant service that meets the full expectations of the patient."

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Research was carried out by market research agency MESH Planning. A panel of over 500 respondents were asked to text in their experiences of the NHS and private healthcare providers across various channels of engagement.  Each patient logged every significant interaction with their healthcare provider over a four week period in early 2011. For each interaction, participants sent a text message capturing who the interaction was with, the channel it occurred through, how relevant it was to the recipient and the impact on their perception of the service.

About SAS

SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services, and the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. Through innovative solutions delivered within an integrated framework, SAS helps customers at more than 50,000 sites improve performance and deliver value by making better decisions faster. Since 1976 SAS has been giving customers around the world The Power to Know® .

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