The Impact of AI and Machine Learning on Health Care Marketing

By The SHSMD Team posted 03-09-2021 02:15 PM


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing almost every industry and area of life today and transforming the work of health care marketers — from how they segment and target customers to how they purchase and manage digital media platforms to how they engage with patients and deliver value. In a recent episode of SHSMD’s Rapid Insights podcast, Daniel Fell, senior strategist in Optum’s Market Solutions group, discusses ways this technology is set to fundamentally change marketing and the principles and applications of AI that health care marketers should understand as they prepare for the future.

The Power of Machine Learning

AI and machine learning can be defined as the replication of human intelligence in machines programmed to think or act like humans. As computer programming becomes more sophisticated, the devices using that programming become more intelligent or appear more human like. Advanced machine learning or AI, also known as deep learning or neural networks, involves the computer itself learning from interactions and making decisions on its own about how to manage things like communication responses or chat bots.

The power of machines lies in the speed at which they can process information and the sheer amount of information they can handle, Fell notes. “If you’re in a profession like marketing, which relies heavily on cognitive skills like problem solving and thinking, computers allow us to analyze a lot of information very quickly and derive really distinct benefits from that.”

Predictive analytics is one example of the application of AI in health care. Computers have the ability to process millions of bits of information, learn from the analysis, and identify insights and patterns in the data. “AI involves taking literally millions of health records and other health care data, and building highly accurate predictive models about what consumers’ health care needs are or what health care conditions they might have,” Fell says.

Other AI applications include programmatic media buying and algorithms that drive Google search results, social media posts or marketing automation platforms. “Armed with this information, marketers can actually identify consumers who have a high likelihood of having heart disease or needing orthopedic care,” Fell says. “Rather than advertising to everyone in the community or even segmenting based on age or gender, health care marketers have the ability to target individuals, making marketing much more effective and efficient.”

Implementation of AI in Health Care

Fell says that a good place for marketing departments to start is by conducting assessments to understand how they are currently relying on data and analytics in their organizations. In some cases, such as programmatic media buying, marketers may already be using AI and machine learning but not realize it. In addition, Fell encourages marketers to think about cross-functional knowledge sharing and ways departments can work across organizations to better understand where this technology is headed and its applications in health care.

“The most important thing is not to get too caught up in the hype,” Fell says. “That could involve being overly persuaded by some new tool or solution that you’re introduced to. But it could also be the opposite, which is that you get overwhelmed, fearful or hesitant of jumping into this without realizing that it's a very real and practical solution for many things today.”

Still, marketers need to be aware of some aspects of AI. AI, like any technology, requires ongoing investments in learning, tools and testing to identify that what works and what needs to change. Without that investment, the use of AI could result in unintended consequences such as biased results. Privacy and security are also important considerations. “That is true for any data or digital marketing that an organization is doing,” Fell says. “But I think that more awareness, better education and good data governance will go long way in addressing those concerns.”

Fell also encourages health care marketing professionals to look at the AI industry broadly for a comprehensive view of the technology’s uses and potential. “If you’re into cars, you might want to understand the AI behind a company like Tesla, or if you’re a sports fan, you might want to understand how data and analytics are being used to predict the performance of sports teams or individual athletes. You can learn a lot by just becoming more familiar with the general applications of AI and machine learning because a lot of those base AI principles are being used across many industries.”

Health Care Marketing and the Future of AI

While marketers do not necessarily need to know the technical aspects of machine learning and neural networks, they do need to understand how these tools are rapidly expanding from innovation to widespread use in everything we do to build brands and attract and retain customers. AI is redefining the health care industry, and marketers who embrace these changes and have a fundamental understanding of how these tools work will emerge as the next generation of industry leaders and influencers.

Learning More

In a recent episode of SHSMD’s Rapid Insights podcast, The Impact of AI and Machine Learning on Health Care Marketing — Preparing Marketers for A New Generation of Data and Technology, Daniel Fell discusses how health care marketers can prepare and plan for this new generation of data and technology.

SHSMD members can read more about artificial intelligence and health care in Futurescan 2021-2026: Health Care Trends and Implications, the annual publication featuring the expertise and perspectives of thought leaders in the field. Nonmembers, learn more about SHSMD and join. SHSMD members can also share resources, ideas and questions with peers in the MySHSMD community.

SHSMD members can view a recording of the recent webinar, Futurescan 2021-2026 Insights: Transforming Health Care While Responding to a Pandemic, where renowned futurist Ian Morrison, Ph.D., discusses key forces transforming the future of health care.