Patient Segmentation Research Provides Insights into Digital Health’s Future

Nov 16, 2015

Today’s patient is rapidly evolving. For many, they are moving away from the “my health is my Dr.’s problem” mentality to being much more engaged in their own health, with a willingness to actively participate in improving wellness, preventing risk factors, and managing chronic conditions.

As a whole, patients are more interested in digital health technologies and solutions, though patient segmentation reveals that some groups are more receptive than others. Will focusing on these groups deliver results?

Digital Health Consumer Segmentation

Parks-Associates_Consumer-Segmentation-Four-Health-GroupsA survey from Parks Associates reveals four distinct digital health consumer segments based on their attitudes toward their health and healthcare solutions. Consumers and patients in each segment have varying priorities and goals for their health, technology preferences, and their receptiveness to digital health services:

1) Healthy and Engaged (26%): This segment is health conscious, does not have chronic health problems, and offers the greatest market potential for digital health products and services.  They regularly exercise and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

2) Challenged but Mindful (25%): This segment of consumers is also health conscious, but has chronic health problems. They offer the second-greatest market potential for digital health products and services. The segment is primarily older consumers, but regularly exercises and eats fresh fruits and vegetables.

3)  Unhealthy and In Denial (28%): Patients in this segment have chronic health problems and are not health conscious. They have lower income levels, on average, and disproportionately live in the US Midwest and South.  They do not habitually exercise or eat fresh fruits and vegetables and offer the third-greatest market potential for digital health.

4) Young and Indifferent (21%): This group is not health conscious, does not have chronic health problems, and is the youngest segment with low income levels. They express the most enthusiasm for technology products and services. And they are healthy, but do not habitually exercise or eat fresh fruits and vegetables.  This group offers the least market potential for digital health products.

One of the most interesting takeaways of this research is the identification of who is and who is not likely to have interest in digital health enabled solutions. Young and healthy people, thought by many to be prime candidates for digital health programs as they are the most interested in new technologies, are actually the least likely to be receptive to digital health solutions. Equally intriguing, the groups most receptive to digital health solutions are those without significant health issues at all.

So does this align with where we are likely to see investment in digital health enabled disease prevention and disease management programs?  Let’s start with an overview of who may invest in these programs and their objectives:

  • Payers: Improve member health…and reduce claims especially associated with emergency room visits
  • Providers: Increase efficacy of treatment…and reduce risk/costs associated with readmission fines
  • Large Employers: Healthier, more productive employees…and lower healthcare subsidy costs
  • Pharma Manufacturers: Better patient outcomes…and increased prescription refills/revenues

Based on these objectives, the potential investors in programs would be most interested in the Unhealthy and In Denial group.

But is focusing on this group going to provide the greatest ROI?

PAM-Levels-w-copyrightInsignia Health has invested over a decade of research on the development of their Patient Activation Measure® (PAM) which assesses a person’s ability to self-manage their health and their aptitude towards adherence.  Once a patient is assessed via a survey, they are placed into one of four levels (see table). Unique programs are developed for each level with the goal of advancing a patient to the next level increasing their “Level of Activation.”

If we look at this approach to patient segmentation again through the lens of potential investors in digital health enabled programs, they would most likely be interested in influencing members, employees, patients and consumers in Level 1 and Level 2.

But when considering the ROI, again it is unclear if these are the optimal targets for digital health enabled programs. If we consider those segmented into Level 1 for example, would a device that automatically provides data back to physicians be effective because it is a passive approach or would it be viewed as complicated and further the feeling of being overwhelmed?

Patient segmentation techniques are very powerful. And effective programs leverage various and unique coaching methods, messaging, and communication channels to influence patients across each segment. Digital health enabled programs will need to leverage the same approach.

For example, the digital health portion of a program for patients with hypertension might look like the following:

  • Healthy and Engaged – robust mobile app focused on exercise and healthy diet with a rewards program where they can win a wearable fitness tracker
  • Challenged but Mindful – wearable device that provides information to their support system – physicians and caregivers
  • Unhealthy and In Denial – digital pill bottle or ingestible device in pills with multiple reminders when they don’t take their medicine
  • Young and Indifferent – social media community where they can share experiences and feelings with others while gaining more information

I look forward to the future where we have years of research to leverage to deploy high impact digital health enabled programs. But until then, patient segmentation research provides a strong foundation to start with.

 

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