Blog Post

Using Technology & Targeted Messaging to Improve Health

New communications technologies and evidence-based messaging strategies can help health organizations improve outcomes while empowering patients to get more involved in their care
August 8, 2013

Data-driven approaches tailored to patients’ unique perspectives and health needs can push people to take positive steps, reinforce that action, and help them monitor progress along the way.
The following strategies were addressed by speakers at the 2013 Healthcare Unbound conference, which focused on healthcare technologies:
Segment audiences based on their likeliness to make personal changes in their health. This approach has proven more effective than segmenting based on socioeconomic status, a specific health condition, education level, etc.  If we know how likely a person is to make personal changes in his/her health, we can deliver messages that are more targeted, more effective, and more likely to motivate the target audience to action.
In practice, this is what it looks like: Using the data you have about your audience, rank people on a 1-10 scale (1 = not interested in making change, 10 = very interested and committed to making change). Then craft different messages for audiences on different points on this scale. The message you deliver to a person who is a 1 will be very different than what you say to a person who is at a 10. The “1” should get basic, practical messages meant to keep a person on track (e.g. “Take X pill every Y to treat your condition”). A “10” with the same condition could get a message with a very specific call to action like, “Track your daily caloric intake with this app so that you can better understand the cause of the issue and identify ways to prevent it, so you don’t have to take X pill as often .” The “10” message is meant to use a person’s willingness to make change to help push them into not only managing a condition, but actually making life changes to improve their health.
In terms of execution, this requires a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system, otherwise known as a data warehouse, to store the data, and statistical tools to help you interpret the data to find those connections that predict a person’s willingness to engage. Once you know where people fall on that spectrum, they can be grouped and sent targeted communications that reflect their willingness to manage their health.
Implement a lifecycle management strategy to help people progress to more meaningful actions over time. For most people, behavior change occurs as the result of lots of small choices adding up over time. Digital technologies can reinforce those good choices to help move people along that path to better health. For example, after a diagnosis, a series of follow-up messages (delivered via text message, email, video chats, etc.) could help move a person move to more significant behavior changes.
In terms of execution, this might require the development of mobile applications that send alerts or help customers track progress or smart email marketing campaigns that push progressively more intensive action-based messages to the customer over time.
People are motivated by evidence-based messages only if these messages are aligned with their personal situation. While evidence-based messages can be effective, they should reflect the real-world dynamics the person faces. People are not going to take action to improve their health if the evidence-based approach doesn’t work in their actual life. For example, if you want the person to walk more, but they live in a community that is not walking friendly, suggesting that they walk around the block is not an effective message. Instead, it would be more effective to suggest she go to the local gym and walk on a treadmill.
Health organizations need to have conversations with their key audiences to learn about them so that evidence-based approaches are adapted to better align with their personal preferences and situations.
Frame messages around loss. Framing the message around something a person will lose is more persuasive than talking about what they will gain. For example:

  • Instead of: “X drug costs $15 more than y drug.”
  • Try: “You’re spending more money than you have to.”
  • Instead of: “Improve your health by doing x.”
  • Try: “You’re losing five years of life expectancy by not doing x.”

Ask for a commitment. Then set a timeline. This is the most effective way to get people to make changes in their health. Instead of just telling people what to do, ask them to make a commitment to do it. If they are willing to commit, then ask them to set a timeline. Support that with digital tools that help reinforce that commitment.

  • Example: If people commit to walking an extra five miles per week, give them a pedometer app to keep them accountable and show them their progress towards the goal they set.

Use personal data to illustrate the issue. Personalized health data motivates people to make change. For example, this has been used successfully with college students who were binge drinkers. By showing them how many more drinks they consumed than the average person in a given week, the students could more easily wrap their heads around the scale of their problem. As a result, they reduced their alcohol consumption. Again, this is where a data warehouse or CRM system will be necessary.
People don’t care about avoiding disease, they care about maintaining or improving their quality of life.

  • Instead of: “Now that you’ve quit smoking, you’re x times less likely to get y.”
  • Try:  “See how you can now walk your dog around the block without shortness of breath?”

People are most receptive to receiving health messages at major points in their life. These life events could include becoming a parent, around a high school reunion, getting a new job.

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Using Technology to Deliver Targeted Health Messages

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