In Healthcare, Marketing Should Focus on Patients

Researchers Use Technology, Analytics to Put Patients First

Mar 03, 2020
As Featured In 
Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science

When you think of marketing and healthcare, you probably think of flipping past drug ads in magazines or on TV, or cozy relationships between pharmaceutical companies and physicians. But big regulatory shifts and advancing technology in healthcare call for big shifts in healthcare marketing, where creating value for patients is paramount, say researchers at Maryland Smith’s Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS).

“Healthcare is now shifting to a model where good health is good business, and that has implications for marketing as well,” says Michelle Dugas, a CHIDS senior research scientist and co-author of a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. “We developed a framework of value-centric marketing that puts the consumer front-and-center for marketing activities in healthcare.”

Dugas worked with Smith’s interim dean Ritu Agarwal and professor Guodong “Gordon” Gao, co-directors of CHIDS, and Smith marketing professor P.K. Kannan to apply techniques and strategies developed by marketers to the healthcare setting. Their framework goes beyond promotion and advertising to focus on three dimensions to create value for consumers: patient preference, treatment precision and the care process.

Readily available data, combined with huge advances in artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technologies to comb through it, have created the perfect stage for changes in healthcare marketing, say the researchers. The industry is getting better at understanding consumer preferences through the data that technologies are unlocking.This is part of a shift from the paternalistic doctor-knows-best model to shared decision-making, says Dugas.

“We’re able to capture information about patients in many more settings than before, where we used to be limited to 15-minute doctor visits,” Dugas says. “Now, with remote patient monitoring, we can capture how patients are managing their condition in their everyday life.” Providers can also use information about patients, with their consent, from social media or mobile apps, or wearable devices, to better understand who the patient is and what would be the best fit for their preferences and needs.

The process part of the equation is about customer service and making it easier for everyone to access better care, whether that’s transitioning to a more digital engagements with doctors or being able to reach rural patients. Dugas points to the growing segment of businesses who offer digital solutions through insurers or employers for patients to track health and wellness.

All of this is possible now because of fundamental transformations taking place in healthcare. There are changes to how we pay for healthcare, where instead of rewarding volume – the number of services providers perform – outcomes for patients are rewarded. There is also increased emphasis on precision in healthcare: Finding the right treatment for the right person at the right time. Both are more possible with the technology and analytics that we have available now, says Dugas.

But, the researchers say, the technology and algorithms also pose risks. With technology, there are additional barriers to access for racial and ethnic minorities, low income groups, and those who live in rural areas. Those groups already have a tougher time accessing healthcare and may not have good enough internet access to use online patient portal, or may have difficulty navigating them and interpreting medical information on the portals.

There is also the risk of algorithmic bias, where AI-powered tools may use data that doesn’t accurately represent all groups that could skew recommendations and make errors that could have life-altering consequences. And there is also the risk of data breaches and misuse.

Still, the researchers say creating value for patients can outweigh the risks if best practices are carefully employed.

“With this paper, we aim to connect marketing science to healthcare in order to advance the science of creating value for patients,” says Dugas.

“There may be some misgivings about marketing in healthcare because of a perceived profit motive,” says Dugas. “But there are also a lot of lessons from marketing’s focus on the consumer that we hope to integrate in healthcare to deliver better patient value.”

Emerging Technologies and Analytics for a New Era of Value-Centered Marketing in Healthcare,” is featured in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.


About the Author(s)

Ritu Agarwal

Ritu Agarwal is interim dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She is also the Robert H. Smith Dean’s Chair of Information Systems and founding director of the school’s Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS). She has published more than 100 papers in top academic journals, testified before government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health, and collaborated with Fortune 500 companies such as Cisco Systems, Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer. Since arriving at Maryland Smith in 1999, Agarwal has taught at every level and received all of the school’s major teaching awards. Prior to her appointment as interim dean, she served as Senior Associate Dean for Faculty & Research.

Guodong "Gordon" Gao

Guodong (Gordon) Gao is a professor in the Decision, Operations and Information Technologies Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. His research interests include IT's impact on healthcare and innovation, and the transparency in service quality. 


P. K. Kannan

P. K. Kannan is the Dean's Chair in Marketing Science at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. His main research focus is on marketing modeling, applying statistical and econometric methods to marketing data. His current research stream focuses on attribution modeling, media mix modeling, new product/service development and customer relationship management (CRM).