Here’s How Personalization Increases Patient Engagement

Marta Sylvia, Director, Strategy and Applied Analytics Strategy, Analytics and Mission

Have you seen those racks of mini personalized license plates at gas stations? Or the dolphin- or sandal-shaped keychains emblazoned with people’s names at tourist destinations? For many kids, those spinning carousels of personalized seashell magnets are, well, magnetic. There’s just something about having a personalized thing that draws us in.


For adults, it’s the same story. We may not fall prey to cheap knickknacks anymore, but most who live in our digital world expect personalization. It doesn’t have to be our names painted in curlicued font, but we assume companies will personalize communications and share information that matters to us. The same goes for healthcare.

Healthcare personalization is not a matter of cheesy vacation souvenirs. Instead, it’s about sharing meaningful information that can help patients make better decisions for their health. As an added benefit, we know that better-educated patients lead to better outcomes, which means cost savings for everyone. But the information you share—and how—is important.

Use Personalization to Meet People Where They Want

Research shows that personalized care does indeed improve patient experience and outcomes.1 The same study showed that as much as one-third of high-cost unplanned follow-up care was preventable. So how do you personalize care? It doesn’t have to be a monumental task. Choose an area of care that needs attention. Are you trying to increase participation in your smoking cessation programs? Do you need better pre-op education for specific procedures? Once you know what program or treatment you’d like to promote, identify the patient group for whom the information or program is relevant. Then reach out to that group with clear messaging.2

For example, if you want to convince people who are overdue for mammograms to schedule appointments, first identify the overdue group. Then create specific messaging around mammograms and why they’re important. If you have deeper information on patients in the group (like whether some visit a mobile clinic versus a permanent location), create customized messages for each patient group based on their preferences. Finally, be sure to include an easy way for the patients to engage, such as sharing a link to make an appointment or requesting that a staff member reach out to them.

One thing to keep in mind: pay attention to member preferences around communication. Allow patients to choose communication preferences (such as text, phone, or email) and communicate how they prefer. One study compared two similar patient groups that preferred to receive communication in different ways: “Engaged Traditionalists” and “Disadvantaged Disconnecteds.”1 These groups have similar social and demographic traits, but very different preferences for communication about their care. One group wanted emails, while the other preferred to receive texts. One group wanted information while they were still at the hospital, and the other wanted information following discharge. Follow your patients’ preferences when communicating with them.


The Information You Share Matters

If you do target a group with a specific message, make sure the information you send is easy to understand, consistent, and relevant. Of those who received unplanned care in the communication preferences study above, one third felt that care was avoidable by simple fixes such as receiving clear discharge instructions.1

Let’s use the earlier example of communication with patients who are overdue for mammograms. People want a concise, clear message and to know what action to take. Share a brief explanation about the importance of getting a mammogram and a video showing how mammograms work. This helps people understand why they should get a mammogram and know what to expect. Then include a simple way for them to connect and schedule their mammogram.

Personalization in Action: A Real-World Example

The first big challenge in helping people quit smoking is getting them enrolled in smoking cessation programs. Duke Health recently used personalized outreach to dramatically increase participation and success in their smoking cessation program. By offering patients individualized health content in the right format at the right time:

  • Duke had over 1,000 patients request information on the program.
  • Duke saw a 30%–35% success rate among enrollees (which is 10 times the unassisted success rate).

And now Duke Health is taking the lessons they learned to improve their messaging for patients with back pain, overdue mammograms, pre-op education for hip and knee replacements, and provider introduction videos. Find out more about Duke’s strategy for success here.

1 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/the-role-of-personalization-in-the-care-journey-an-example-of-patient-engagement-to-reduce-readmissions
2 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/next-generation-member-engagement-during-the-care-journey