Several years ago, population health expert David B. Nash, MD, said, “The most important five-digit number I need to predict your health status and well-being is your ZIP code, bar none.” Is it hyperbole to suggest that where a healthcare consumer lives is a determining factor in health outcomes?
Not according to the expert panelists this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin. During the hour-long session, “Your Zip Code: The Key to Health,” Jay Bhatt of the American Hospital Association, Eric Gertler of US News & World Report, Garth Graham of the Aetna Foundation and Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution & Johns Hopkins Medicine Sibley Primary Care confirmed that a person’s zip code can be just as predictive of health as genetics.
Social factors—such as access to housing stability, education quality, employment opportunities, and food availability—must certainly be considered. Jay Bhatt notes, “These social determinants of health typically strongly correlate with the health status of a given community, so much so that we now believe that your zip code can be a very accurate predictor of your health.”
Hospitals clearly need to address the elephant in the room: How do you leverage the wide array of available patient data—including zip codes—to go from predicting health status to positively influencing health outcomes? Let’s take a look how some hospitals are making health data decisions that actually impact patient outcomes.
Influencing Health Outcomes with Consumer Data
At St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, NH, healthcare professionals started small with a population health management strategy several years ago. As a self-insured organization, hospital leaders decided to roll out this strategy among employees and their families.
After analyzing two years’ worth of health data, they identified a number of employees and dependents as potential high-risk patients and moved them into intervention programs. Their efforts have paid dividends.
In addition to teaching clinical staff how to initiate critical conversations about responsible use of healthcare resources and providing care coordinators with the tools needed to respond more proactively with high-risk patients, St. Joseph saved $1.8 million in healthcare costs just a year after launching the initiative.
TriHealth Corporate Health in Cincinnati, OH took health data use a step further, according to H&HN Magazine. Following a 2016 interview with the organization’s COO, Terri Hanlon, H&HN reported on how health coaches are encouraging healthy behaviors among patients. Remarking on the lack of consistency with patient engagement—some patients tackle health like gangbusters while others are more resistant—Hanlon said, “So this nagging question in my mind has always been: What really motivates folks who do what they do?”
Enter psychographic segmentation. TriHealth started with a three-month pilot program for 210 individuals with diabetes or a musculoskeletal disorder. Patients answered the brief 12-question Consumer Classifier survey developed by c2b solutions to segment them into five distinct psychographic groups based on attitudes about health and wellness and communication preferences. The healthcare organization then trained its coaches on how to best communicate with and motivate individuals based on their segment.
It’s a substantial change from the traditional approach of grouping patients by a diagnosis and then serving up a one-size-fits-all engagement plan. Hanlon explained, “If someone is a Balance Seeker, you have to give them choices, and you cannot tell them what to do. But with Direction Takers, you need to say, ’I want you to do this,’ and they will take that and go with it.”
Encouraged by the results of the pilot program, TriHealth now supports its individual health coaching with the questionnaire and assessment, as well as ongoing engagement training, to motivate individuals to achieve their health goals.
Think Like a Retailer: Applying Consumer Segmentation to Improve Healthcare Outcomes
When it comes to using consumer data effectively, you don’t need to look further than perennial brand favorites like Amazon, Netflix and Disney. Hospitals would do well to follow their lead and move away from the cookie-cutter approach that dominates healthcare engagement strategies. By augmenting patient data with consumer insights, hospitals are better positioned to make health data decisions that lead to better health outcomes.
“If someone is a Balance Seeker, you have to give them choices, and you cannot tell them what to do. But with Direction Takers, you need to say, ’I want you to do this,’ and they will take that and go with it.”
For example, understanding communication preferences allows hospitals to connect with patients—be it by phone, by text message, by email or through a patient portal. And using ZIP codes to predict health status? If you apply psychographic segmentation to a population within a specific ZIP code, you can target your audience even more effectively.
For example, 24 percent of the patient population falls into the Self Achievers segment, a group that is generally more proactive about health and wellness. By reaching out with messaging tailored to that segment, hospitals can pick the “low-hanging fruit” and spur improved health outcomes among nearly a quarter of the population.
Likewise, healthcare providers can use insights into preferred sources of health information for the 27 percent of the population who are Willful Endurers, allowing them to reach out to individuals in less traditional settings, like social media, as they turn to healthcare professionals as a last resort. Consider it a “predict AND prevent” approach to health data use.