Hospitals Use EMR Data To Target Marketing Campaigns

Posted on November 14, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

When we talk about the benefits we can derive from compiling and analyzing EMR data, most of us focus on care and efficiency improvements, and to some extent population health.  But what if hospitals used EMRs to find appropriate targets for marketing efforts?  Is that kosher?

I don’t know, but it’s clear some hospitals have decided that it is. For example, a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch tells the tale of two health systems which have been data-mining their EMRs to target mailings on health issues to patients in the community.

According to the piece, regional health system OhioHealth has been using this approach for six years, and Mount Carmel Health System has for two years. Both are non-profit systems with large presences in the areas they serve.

It seems that these health systems are largely using these mailings to address patients’ specific health concerns. For example, OhioHealth has sent messages to diabetic patients and others with heart disease. Mount Carmel, for its part, has sent out mammograms and colorectal screenings, as well as to invite patients to seminars on joint replacement and health fairs.

But OhioHealth goes a step further and targets households with higher incomes.

Of course, both parties swear on a stack that none of this violates HIPAA, because marketers never see an individual’s health information.  And maybe they’re right.

As for me, I could go either way as to whether this is an ethical use of medical data. While it may indeed be legal, it’s discomfiting to know that hospitals might be using my clinical data for non-clinical purposes.

That being said, if health education and marketing efforts are done in a tasteful way which doesn’t invade my privacy — or expose my medical situation to the mailman — I can see the benefits.  Sometimes the right reminder or piece of  education can change a patient’s behavior in a timely manner.

And the truth is, if hospitals are going to spend millions and millions on EMRs, maybe this is a way to squeeze those extra bucks out of the system that will help pay for the investment.

I don’t know. I guess it’s something of a tossup. Readers, how do you feel about this issue? Is your hospital mining EMRs for marketing purposes?