The idea of better understanding the characteristics of all aspects of the healthcare business remains both a challenging hurdle and an inspiring marketing manifesto.
While we're still in the early stages of Big Data, there are early adopters in the healthcare field diving into the databases and unearthing analytics treasures.
At this year's SHSMD Connections , the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development's annual conference, Philip Oravetz, a New Orleans-based physician from the Ochsner Health System , and Judy Blackwell, CMO of HealthGrades , teamed up to discuss their experiences with analytics and data-driven decision making in their panel "Reimagining Marketing at the Center of Population Health Management."
With over 14,000 employees and serving about 375,000 patients a year, the Ochsner Health System has a major need to track, analyze and optimize its business. So far, the company has identified 150 actions that are improving the value of patient care, Oravetz says.
Additionally, using analytics isn't just about understanding past activities, it's also about leveraging that data to make predictions and forecasts as well.
"Who are the people who are likely to be hospitalized in the next 6 months?," Oravetz says. "All of that is known."
Blackwell advises marketers at hospitals and clinics to be advocates for data-driven decision making, since many of their colleagues are operating with little to no understanding of the data that's available. Marketing must partner with IT, the finance team and the C-suite to ensure that valuable data is always a part of the discussion.
"It's your obligation and your opportunity to make sure others in your organization understand the assets you have to solve problems," she says.
Marshfield Clinic  operates around 50 locations and covers about half of Wisconsin, says Al Chaney, Marketing and Communications Director for Marshfield Clinic. Thanks to its investment in Big Data, the company went from considering a scaleback in the Eau Claire region to identifying growth opportunities and reinvesting in the area.
By partnering with Buxton, the clinic was able to analyze its patient database and identify three distinct patient profile personas: Farming in place, self-reliant women and families. It turns out that patients in the Eau Claire region had slightly younger heads of households and were more likely to have children than those in other markets the clinic serves. The company's marketing in the Eau Claire region did not reflect this audience well.
For a long time, the Marshfield team in Eau Claire said their market was different from the rest, says Chaney.
"[But] the leadership in Eau Claire weren't able to articulate what was different," he says. Thanks to Big Data, they now understand how and why it's different.
While the amount of data available to healthcare companies is awe-inspiring, they shouldn't just stop at stockpiling data, cautions Bill Stinneford, senior vice president of account management at Buxton. "Big Data doesn't refer to size, it refers to impact," he says.
Instead of focusing on how much data they have, healthcare must invest in understanding the information that can be unlocked with this data. "Patients will change over time. Are they changing in certain places and not others? Why?" Stinneford asks.
As Big Data platforms and tools mature, healthcare organizations will hopefully be able to answer such questions in the future with a simple database query.