Rich Temple – Founder/CEO Rich Temple & Associates
Sanjay Sarma – Managing Partner, Prosperata
What is “Social Listening”?
(And Why Is It Urgent for Healthcare Providers TODAY)
The concept of “social listening” is, in essence, just a modern-day spin on the old adage that companies need to “listen to their customers”. Whereas, not all that long ago, companies sought feedback about their products and services through focus groups, customer surveys, and other methods along that line, social listening takes obtaining customer feedback to a whole new level by mining comments and notes from a myriad of data sources (many, but no means all, from social media sites) and analyzing key words and sentiments in customer comments with an eye toward getting a better sense of customers’ perceptions of your products and services. This feedback would come from not only from social media sites and blogs, but also from internal data sources such as Call Center logs, physician referral lines, and patient surveys. An additional bonus to social listening is that by keeping current with assessing what your customers (patients?, families?) are saying, you put yourself in a position to address issues in near-real-time and perform service recovery that can keep that customer in your fold and increase the odds of having them review you favorably on surveys and in social media.
In the world of healthcare today, with value-based purchasing and other mandates arising out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), providers are now, for the first time, seeing that patient satisfaction surveys will have a direct impact on their bottom lines. Additionally, with competition between health systems becoming increasingly fierce, it is a big deal to lose your relative market standing when negotiating with insurers and problematic for the long-term viability of your system if you are losing portions of your community population to a competitor.
There is a true sense of urgency for providers to embark on this type of program. In a few words, if your organization is not engaging in this manner with your customers, it is very likely that your competitors are. An increasing number of large health systems are beginning to dip their toes in the water around using social listening to enhance their customer experience.
Many provider organizations may believe that their deployment of a portal is a great form of patient engagement. It is, but it isn’t nearly enough. You want to reel patients in to actually use the portal, and you want to get their feedback as to what will make the portal experience better for them. By not engaging with patients as to the totality of their experience, your organization is at risk of just deploying technology and hoping that customers actually utilize it. With the advent of Meaningful Use, many provider organizations are offering portals now, and if your organization makes that portal experience a great one, you are much more likely to retain that patient or family member.
It bears noting that healthcare organizations have used more informal patient survey instruments (specifically, surveys outside the Medicare-mandated HCAHPS surveys) to try to glean this insight. The problem with these types of surveys is that they only capture feedback that addresses questions that are specifically articulated in the survey. Also, the response rate from these surveys is often in the single-digits and does not offer a true representative sample of patient sentiment. Better, as you can imagine, to have a panoply of different sources that can pick up unstructured customer/patient feedback and mine that into patterns and meaningful insights that can drive actual changes. Social listening provides this diverse platform and can “push” concepts to the organization to help address them, as opposed to the organization having to explicitly go out and ask about specific (and, limited) areas of interest.
The chart below (courtesy of CMS) will help illustrate the increasing emphasis on patient experience as it relates to positive or negative payment adjustments included in Medicare’s new value-based purchasing model (and likely to be adopted by commercial payors in the immediate future).
SOCIAL LISTENING IS THE MODERN-DAY SPIN ON THE OLD ADAGE THAT COMPANIES NEED TO “LISTEN TO THEIR CUSTOMERS”. BUT IT USES SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT AND LOGS FROM CUSTOMER INTERACTIONS TO GLEAN KEY CUSTOMER PERCEPTIONS AND BE ABLE TO ACT ON THEM.
All providers need to measure these statistics and have vehicles through which to do it. The model of social listening allows for integrating new data sources and new technologies into this exercise to provide a deeper and broader window into patient/customer sentiment.
How Does “Social Listening” Work for Healthcare Providers?
Knowing how your health system is perceived in the community is essential to being able to effectively promote your unique “brand”; a concept that is becoming more and more critical with the wave of consolidations and closures taking place in healthcare these days. What better way to understand what people are saying about you and how you can best optimize your perception in your target community than going right to where people communicate most these days: social media sites. Social listening pulls comments from your internal data, social media sites and industry-specific sites to identify key words (with more frequently-used words appearing in larger print) and concepts that appear over and over again and provides them to provider leadership to be able to take action. These might take the form of a “word cloud”
Word clouds have been shown to be very effective visual vehicles for conveying general sentiments and the overall frequency that those sentiments are articulated.
Likely social media sources to be plumbed for this type of information would be:
- Google Plus
- Physician collaboration sites
- Yelp (it is important to note that Yelp is dramatically increasing its footprint in the healthcare space by partnering with ProPublica, a renowned investigative journalism site, which will provide information on wait times, fines paid by the provider, statistics, and many other key facts)
- Patient forum sites on the Internet
- Many others
But social media is not the only place where valuable, albeit fairly unstructured information about patient experience can be gleaned. Your health system likely has a number of “internal sources” of data that document communications the system has had with your patient community. Examples of this could be:
- Physician referral line data logs
- Call Center logs (for things like your patient portal, etc.)
- Population health / community health coordinator logs
- Patient Financial Services communications
- HCAHPS or other patient survey instruments
- Many others
Social listening has the wherewithal to mine these types of data sources in a similar way to what we have described for social media. It can identify patterns, attribute negative or positive connotations to words or phrases and create reporting that lets the health system leader identify the most compelling patterns and take action on those.
While being able to respond to patterns gleaned from the various sources outlined above is critical, two other compelling use cases involve the ability to offer “micro-targeted” marketing promotions based on specific customer feedback or to, perhaps more importantly, intervene right after a less-than-positive event occurs to be able to perform what is known as “service recovery”, to hopefully remedy a bad situation. Monitoring these sites in near-real-time and being able to generate and respond to alerts around a particular event (for example, an unhappy family member about how a loved one’s post-acute transition coordination is evolving) allows the health system to intercede and make things right before they wind up becoming irreparably wrong and thus permanently ruining a relationship with a customer or family. Many marketing studies have shown that an effective service recovery can leave an even more positive impression with a customer than not having an issue at all, as it shows the provider’s commitment to making things right. Generally speaking, it is really better to not get in situations that will require service recovery; but, if it is done right it can be immensely helpful to building loyalty.
Here is an example of an actionable dashboard that can be created from a well-oiled social listening program (courtesy of Clarabridge, a maker of software that tracks customer sentiments):
Notice how you can assess feedback based on many different parameters: staff courtesy, amenities, locations, interrelationships among keywords, etc. Additional drill-down capabilities allow for more granular analyses and targeting.
It bears noting that, although the vast majority of health systems have a presence on Facebook or Yelp, at the very least, there does exist a significant concern about the fact that it may be difficult to control negative content from appearing on these sites. Progressive systems are accepting this inevitability and embracing it as a learning opportunity and a very visible way of showing their willingness to improve their service offerings.
A recent survey by Mobi Health News4 reveals that 54% of millennials go on-line before seeking a doctor (the number for non-millennials is 39%). As you can imagine, a robust well-designed social media presence with a visible an effective easily-accessible two-way communication loop is going to be a huge vehicle for attracting new patients and maintaining loyalty among current patients.
In addition to embracing social media, providers will need to make sure they have processes in place to capture, store, and effectively mine internal data, such as logs from interactions with patients, help desk calls, and other points of outreach with customers/patients.
This social listening concept is still in its infancy, but those who embrace it are most likely to achieve success by virtue of ratcheting up their customer/patient engagement programs in a meaningful way. The Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media has been a leader in this nascent area and is an excellent resource for organizations seeking to augment their patient engagement programs.
There are a multitude of commercial packages in the marketplace that can help with this type of data mining, but a social listening program is much more than just buying a software tool. Healthcare providers need to, at the outset of a social listening program, gain consensus as to what they are seeking to gain out of a program, what types of programs they are willing to put in place to operationalize the insights found from the software tools, and build governance and accountability for the success of a social listening program. The best place to start would be with a consultancy with core expertise in social listening who can bring key players together, establish the necessary governance and communications structures, and assist with the procurement of the most appropriate software to fulfill the goals of the healthcare provider organization.
Good initial steps for providers to begin deploying the social listening concept would be to bring organizational leadership together to decide what exactly it is the provider is looking for with social listening and begin identifying sources for this new data. Also, it will be important to do a technology assessment to see how these new sources can be effectively integrated into the mandatory reporting that providers need to submit so that they can get the most value out of the data in the most efficient manner possible.
Founder/CEO, Richard Temple & Associates, LLC – Rich has over 25 years of experience in healthcare leadership as a vendor, provider, and consultant. Rich has also served as President and Board Member of the New Jersey Chapter of HIMSS and has spoken at many industry conferences and published in healthcare journals
He is a Managing Partner at Prosperata. He has been at the forefront of healthcare technology innovation and has consulted for the leading U.S. providers around key strategic issues for over 15 years. Sanjay has significant experience in the areas of patient and customer experience, analytics, data management and IT strategic planning.