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Want to Improve Patient Relationships? Let Patients Express Their Preferences

By Jeff Jarvis

Selecting preferences is commonplace in our digital world. Users subscribe or unsubscribe from e-mail lists, request notifications from their favorite brands, and update their privacy settings on social media networks. It’s a win-win for both parties. Consumers receive relevant communications when they are given a voice regarding their areas of interest and preferred frequency and channel of communication. Likewise, businesses get better return on investment (ROI) on their campaigns and build trust and loyalty with their customer base. These principles apply to health care organizations and their patients as well.

Health care marketing teams are granted firsthand insight into unique customer characteristics and interests—the ultimate opportunity to give patients exactly what they want and to enhance relationships. And patients now expect it, especially in view of strict regulations including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and California Consumer Privacy Act. However, while preference collection is important, how a business manages that information is critical to maintaining compliance. Unfortunately, many organizations still miss the mark.

The Way Forward
The first step is for health care marketing executives to understand their needs. Not all preference management platforms are created equally; however, many companies try to take the easy way out, choosing to leverage an existing system that’s not designed to meet the needs of complex organizations. For example, the majority of SMS and e-mail service providers have built-in preference collection interfaces, where data are stored within the system and access is available to administrators. While this approach provides basic functionality and may meet the needs of health care facility offices with a sole communication channel, larger health care organizations or providers face complex challenges, requiring more robust and integrated technology. All too often, large health care companies with multiple departments and communication touchpoints require a more sophisticated solution to better service their patients and avoid compliance risk. They are simply unaware of the risks they assume and opportunities forgone by relying on a simple preference collection webpage.

Surprising to many organizations, preference and consent collection is not a simple issue to tackle. Do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions lack proper governance that drives preference management capabilities; they often and fail to distribute information across the entire enterprise, leaving each business unit with varied perspectives of a patient and their preferred communications. Without a unified view of the patient, each department risks sending impersonal communications to those who have made the effort to share their preferences. Further, compliance is jeopardized by the systems’ inability to record consent history and track changes to preferences. In the wake of a violation accusation, patient consent and preference history is essential to defend your company. As the amount of data escalates and regulations continue to evolve, an oversimplified preference collection webpage heightens the potential for legal battles and presents more alarming issues than it attempts to solve.

Patients view their health care provider, like most companies, as a single entity, but basic preference collection webpages prevent providers from behaving like one. They behave as siloed systems—information systems that isolate data from the rest of the health care organization. By resorting to a simple preference webpage, health care companies are missing out on the opportunity to communicate more effectively. When patient preference information is shared across the organization, marketing efforts can be customized to effectively deliver a personalized and consistent message. Instead, customers experience inconsistent interactions, unwanted e-mails or texts, and phone calls; they are turned away feeling unheard.

For example, many medical offices today offer cosmetic services or products that may not be covered by insurance. However, some of their patients may prefer to only receive communications related to their regular visits and desire minimal marketing communications offering additional services. A more intelligent system that can manage the preferences of all individual patients makes it easier to understand what each one wants and needs.

Once health care organizations are aware of the dangers associated with oversimplified or DIY systems, they realize the value of comprehensive enterprise preference management solutions. A centrally located management system is necessary to minimize risk; integration across the whole organization guarantees all units are in sync with the patients, communicating with them accordingly. These systems build trust and enhance vital patient relations and ROI. Additionally, if compliance is called into question, robust preference management systems protect legal authority through following regulatory rules, recording data, and providing health care organizations with a full history of each consent permission to date.

Many health care organizations build their own internal solutions for consent and preference collection in an attempt to save money or retain control; ironically, they are losing money and missing the mark. When deciding whether to build or buy, these organizations must be aware of the differences with each approach. Preference webpages collect fragmented data and fail to integrate information provided by the patient. As a result, organizations open themselves up to compliance violations and negative patient relationships. On the other hand, investing in a preference management system integrates information companywide and continuously evolves with data privacy regulations to protect your company and remain compliant. These systems allow you to optimize your communications and patient relationships.

— Jeff Jarvis, senior vice president of strategy and consulting at PossibleNOW, has held executive positions with FreebeePay, Agentek, SupportSoft, and CoreNetworks and management positions with Mosaix, Sequent Computer, and IBM. PossibleNOW leverages powerful technology and industry-leading expertise to enable relevant, trusted, and compliant interactions between businesses and the people they serve. Its enterprise consent and preference management platform, MyPreferences, collects customer and prospect preferences, stores them safely, and makes them available to any other system or application in the enterprise.