Why Healthcare Can’t Personalize Like Instagram or Facebook

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Welltok’s Aaron Sklar explains why personalized healthcare is so important and what it takes to really connect with today’s consumers and tap into meaningful change.

Aaron SklarIn a world gone mobile, personalization is the natural next step for healthcare. However, it’s not as easy as tallying “likes” on Facebook or favored filters on Instagram. Personalized healthcare isn’t just about personal preference—it’s about using personal preference in parallel with deeper insights to connect patients with ways to manage and improve their health.

That kind of information isn’t always necessarily something patients, now turned healthcare consumers, want to see in their news feeds. As a result, healthcare organizations need to think differently about personalizing healthcare when it comes to building loyalty and prompting change to improve outcomes.

Tapping into that kind of potential takes a lot more than algorithms, according to Welltok’s Aaron Sklar, vice president of the Denver, CO-based health management company.

So what does it take to both reach and access today’s healthcare consumer?  Sklar offered us his insights on how his company is striving to answer that question for health organizations, along with his predictions on how personalized healthcare will prompt meaningful change in healthcare—with patients and their preferences leading the way:


Instagram recently released an algorithm which will now customize what they want to see in their social media feeds, similar to what Facebook has done. In response to this, you’re saying healthcare can’t take the same approach to personalization, because there are things patients need to see that they won’t necessarily want to. First of all, what kind of platforms are we talking about here. Are we talking strictly social media or health-enabled apps? Where are the best social arenas and what are the best tech tools to target today’s health consumer?

Healthcare conversations are happening everywhere. As we all become active consumers of healthcare – as opposed to passive patients – we are seeking out the content and platforms that best fit into our lives. Living healthy and living strong can seem like abstract ideas, but Welltok’s solution works in concert with population health managers to make sure that people are getting connected with the right tools and resources at the right time to achieve optimal health – whether they want it or not.


If this kind of preferential customization isn’t the answer for patients, what is? Algorithms will surely still come into play, no? But what kind of data do we need to piece together to get a better picture of who that singular patient is? And what kind of personalization tactics do you employ to engage them concerning their health?  

Until very recently, healthcare revolved around episodic care. In other words, an individual would go to the doctor’s office or hospital when there was a problem. And when that individual would return in the future, the physician would rely on data from previous visits to understand the patient’s health because that’s all they really had.

Now, we know that our health is defined by much more than the occasional office visit. We need to look outside of the clinical setting and leverage other data points to anticipate a person’s health status because their lifestyle and habits play a tremendous role. Income, demographics, location and buying habits all can provide a more complete picture of the health consumer than clinical data can alone.


How is what you understand about healthcare personalization helped you frame that objective at Welltok? Furthermore, how is Welltok taking on the challenge of providing personalized healthcare through its various CafeWell products?

At Welltok, personalization is a cornerstone of our mission to transform the nation’s healthcare system from one of sick care to optimized health. We recently acquired two companies, Predilytics and Silverlink, that are furthering our personalization capabilities.

Predilytics was one of the first companies to commercially apply machine learning and computer science technologies to more accurately segment people based on risk, receptivity and impactability, which ultimately provides more actionable insights.

It has a curated database for 260 million Americans with more than 800 variables to create consumer-specific predictive models, combining consumer data, such as census, education and purchasing habits, with clinical information to gain a deep level of consumer insight and to address key healthcare questions such as who needs help, who wants help and how we can help them.

The Silverlink acquisition allows us to target communications to connect and support millions of people in a personalized and meaningful way through its behavioral science and consumer marketing expertise, and proprietary technology platform.


Since it’s not just about putting forth what the user may want to see, how can you be sure to truly motivate change? Truth be told, aren’t you also taking into account user preferences to gain traction with consumers?

Absolutely. The difference here is between the content available and how we’re motivating consumers. While an individual may not be seeking information on diabetes management, if we know they are at risk due to their habits, we make sure they have that information and provide the right incentives for them to take action. The preferences really come into play when it comes to determining the best way to communicate with and motivate them.

For example, if we look at two people who are at risk for diabetes, we may provide them the same information and activities, but we’re doing it via email for one and through an app notification for the other. Additionally, the first consumer responds well to daily reminders to exercise and compare her activities with her friends’, but the second needs financial incentive to make those changes. That’s where the personal preferences come into play.


In your estimation, what types of content do healthcare consumers need to see and how can we get them to pay attention, especially if they don’t necessarily want to deal with these types of issues?

What healthcare consumers need to see really depends on the individual, their current health status and their potential risk for certain health issues. In order to get them to pay attention, though, it goes back to personalization. We need to employ the best method of communication for that individual.

Through our work with Silverlink, we know that delivery is extremely important. For example, when speaking with seniors about safety, it’s more effective to use a male voice, and that by simply asking “are you sure” will convert 50-70% of negative responses into positive ones. Along the same lines, some people respond better to hearing from a trusted source, such as the American Heart Association, so we partner with these types of organizations to further our credibility.


Does this kind of logic also apply to the acceptance and need of wearables? There is an argument that only the truly healthy adopt consumer wearables. Are we to expect that some consumers will still experience reluctance with certain technologies despite the efforts of health-tech? At the end of the day, personalization can only take you so far, right?

Wearables are useful in their tracking ability – they make collecting the data easy and convenient. But the real value is what can be done with the data, which is where the industry is falling short right now. When we can tie that data back into the healthcare system and make it contextually relevant by providing individuals with recommendations based on their activity, we reduce the chance that that wearable ends up in a drawer, unused.


Do you think the personalization of healthcare is one-sided? Providers are being incentivized to treat patients more aptly via personized care and treatment. But what’s in it for patients? Is a clean bill enough to motivate change?

Providers are getting paid for performance – shouldn’t the consumer as well? Consumers need more motivation and incentive than a clean bill of health to be motivated to change.


With the increase of high-deductible health plans and more care costs coming out of consumers’ pockets, do you see personalization focusing on a greater transparency regarding healthcare costs or management of insurance benefits?

Definitely, it’s all part of being an empowered consumer. As we’re taking on more of the financial burden, we expect more for our money and are more selective about where and how we’re spending it. Healthcare consumers are becoming more aware that different providers are offering the same services at a widely varying prices, and they want easy ways to access this information.


With the telehealth movement gaining steam, how does that change or heighten the need for personalized healthcare? What kind of delivery models do you expect to emerge as a result?

The telehealth movement is part of the larger shift from being a passive patient to an empowered healthcare consumer. Beyond the iconic video conference, telehealth also includes convenience services like emailing a physician, scheduling an appointment online – it’s a whole category of interaction based on the individual’s preferences.

Healthcare is no longer about a five-minute conversation in an examination room, it’s expanding beyond the doctor’s office, beyond episodic care, and giving individuals the option to pursue the best fit for their own lives.


Given all we have discussed, how is healthcare personalization going to shift the way we perceive, and from a provider perspective deliver, healthcare, especially when personalization goes way beyond engagement activities when we talk about better treating diseases and even cancers via predictive analytics or treatment recommendations as a result of machine learning?

Predictive analytics can be powerful when looking at and segmenting people in ways that are not traditional. We can look at healthcare trajectories, protocols and outcomes, but also data outside of healthcare like voting records, purchasing habits, etc. Additionally, with cognitive computing we are exploring new ways to build relationships with the consumer and provide pertinent recommendations.

Welltok is constantly building up our own arsenal and knowledge in machine learning, and we’re partnering with IBM Watson to see how far we can take that.


Where do you see healthcare personalization over the course of the next five years? Are we looking at an evolution of change or a revolution? How are you going to use that perspective to carry forth at Welltok?

From the industry perspective, this may seem like a revolution, but for the consumer this is an evolution. Consumers are going to (and already do) expect the same experience in healthcare that they are already getting from many, if not most, other industries. Welltok is committed to personalization as the critical lever in order to reach and influence people to optimize their health.