Building trust in an age of anxiety

Faced with new imperatives to build customer engagement based on insight and trust, Life Science and Healthcare companies should start preparing now for data management that is HIPAA ready.

New approaches for engaging life science and healthcare customers

As we leave the challenging winter of 2021 behind and watch a growing number of Americans line up to receive vaccinations, there remains a pervasive anxiety among U.S consumers impacting their plans for travel, recreation, and non-essential healthcare. A survey conducted by Deloitte Services in February 2021 showed that consumers’ concern about their health and the wellbeing of their immediate circle remains elevated. About a third of respondents reported increased anxiety, with the news of more contagious COVID-19 variants amplifying concerns. As we embrace the challenges of 2021 and beyond, one question rises to the top of our national consciousness: “How can we restore confidence and what role does trust play?”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a shock to our collective systems — and a catalyst to rebuild trust,” observe the authors of a study on the impact of COVID, conducted by Deloitte in the first wave of the pandemic. “As resilient leaders seek to shepherd their organizations and stakeholders safely through the COVID-19 crisis, trust will be more critical than ever, as recovery without trust rests on shaky ground.”

The authors describe trust as an essential bond that underpins the relationships organizations have with all their humans (e.g. employees, customers, stakeholders) and they see it as critical to helping organizations recover from the present crisis.

This compelling need to allay anxiety and earn trust opens both challenges and opportunities for life science and healthcare companies that are looking to create compelling customer-centric engagement across their digital ecosystem. These challenges and opportunities stem from three key shifts in consumer behavior, as outlined by researchers from Deloitte’s Future of Health™ team.

First, U.S. consumers are taking charge of their health more than ever, bringing an “Amazon-shopper” mindset to choosing their healthcare providers, care venues, insurance coverage, and therapies. Second, consumers are more digitally engaged than ever before, opting for tele-health over face-to-face visits, requesting prescription refills via patient portals, and updating notes in their own online charts. Finally, people’s attitudes toward data privacy are evolving rapidly. An increase in consumers responded that during health crises, they are more comfortable with sharing data that may help doctors provide better care (see chart).

“The digital world has been in a separate orbit from our medical cocoon, and it’s time the boundaries be taken down.”

Eric Topol, MD

Thought leaders in both academia and industry agree. “The immediacy of the pandemic has caused a pivot to a digital-first methodology. It has accelerated the digital transformation that was beginning to gain traction in healthcare prior to the pandemic,” says Tom Swanson, head of health and life sciences strategy and marketing at Adobe. He sees companies that are working to build deep connections with their customers, whether they are healthcare providers, hospital administrators, or patients. Given the increase in digital healthcare interactions in 2020, the only way this happens is through smart use of technology and data to help automate, assemble and activate the right experiences and messaging for LSHC customers.

Data as the building blocks of engagement

There is a common element through all these trends: more data, in terms of both volume and complexity. Each web search, each channel preference identified, each entry from a wearable device can add elements to different profiles of an individual.

“Individuals’ willingness to share data is important for developing the interoperable data platforms necessary to drive innovation and discovery. It can also help clinicians and consumers be more proactive in health management. Health systems and clinicians that decide to work with tracked data should determine how to organize it so that it’s interoperable. Besides, in clinical trials, organizations / researchers should ensure they have patient education, consent, and support systems in place,” say the authors of the Future of Health study.

Willingness to share data about themselves, however, is hardly universal, and trust must be earned before many customers will provide any information about themselves to a digital platform, especially when it pertains to personal data. “Data hold-outs” can point to a 2017 study by the University of Illinois-Chicago that notes more than 750 data breaches occurred in 2015, the top seven of which opened over 193 million personal records to fraud and identity theft.

Secure data stewardship, then, is essential. “You need trust, transparency, privacy and security in any industry. Healthcare has additional regulatory needs and complexity in terms of data sharing and HIPAA regulations that you don’t have in other industries’” says David Geisinger, marketing technology leader in Deloitte Digital’s LSHC practice. And while closely protected, that data are the building blocks, he says, to a relevant, positive, human experience that fosters connection, loyalty and, ultimately, drives growth.

Managing data that informs a customer’s journey — from initial awareness, through research and consideration phases, to conversion and ongoing engagement — requires a data management platform that not only houses data but also supports analytics and insights.

“The future of health is centered around being predictive and premeditative, as opposed to dealing with health problems after they occur,” says Ed Gibson, a managing director in Deloitte’s life sciences and healthcare consulting practice. “LSHC companies need a customer data platform (CDP) so they can look at their customers holistically and ‘transactionally’ across touchpoints. That is the key to having effective communications and becoming predictive about what to communicate, with whom, and when.”

HIPAA readiness vs certification

In order to comply with HIPAA data security requirements, healthcare organizations and their service providers should have a solid understanding of HIPAA regulations. These regulations describe the administrative, physical and technical safeguards that stipulate the mechanisms and procedures that must be in place to ensure the integrity of Protected Health Information (PHI).

Until very recently, HIPAA protocols for data handling created onerous challenges for LSHC marketers seeking to build out a CDP.

“The specific language around compliance is crucial,” Swanson says. While some software vendors claim to offer ‘HIPAA certified” solutions, Swanson notes that, in fact, only an entity can be certified as compliant in the ways they use the software and who has access to the protected data. Software is not an entity.

“Third parties audit and evaluate HIPAA compliance in terms of both the secure behaviors of users and how they maintain the privacy of data; these auditors will issue a ‘certificate’ validating their audit, it is not a certification from the Department of Health and Human Services. This is exactly why the language is important.”

There can be a steep learning curve for LSHC organizations that are not used to in-house management of data and data-based journey orchestration. These capabilities may require new muscle and a need for great partners to help operate in a new digital environment. The investment, however, is worthwhile. As Geisinger says, “Organizations that haven’t organized data in meaningful ways to optimize the engagement they have with the right individuals at the right time, at the moments that matter, are catching on. They’re starting to do that now.”