News & Analysis

Healthcare Marketing: Why "Cookies" Are Off the Menu

A crumbling cookie illustrates that cookies are going off the menu in healthcare marketing|

If you’re a healthcare provider that relies on digital marketing, your life is about to get a lot more difficult.

This year, Google is phasing out third-party cookies on its Chrome web browser, which is the primary on-ramp for half of all Americans accessing the Internet. Other popular web browsers, like Safari and Firefox, have blocked these cookies for years.

Third-party cookies – tiny bits of code that track an individual’s online habits – have long been an important tool in healthcare marketing. For instance, a health system looking to grow its pediatrics practice might buy ads to target users who’ve viewed the most popular “mom blogs,” exclusively within its market area. (If you’ve ever done online research for the best running shoe, only to see Nike ads on every website you visit for the next week, then you’ve experienced the technology in action.)

That kind of precision is almost impossible without third-party cookies, so Google’s new policy will have far-reaching implications. A comprehensive review of 2021 United States internet browser market share and browser cookie policies revealed that over 98% of mobile browsers currently block or will block third-party cookies by 2025, as will 84% of desktop browsers.

Source: 2021 Internet Browser Market Share, United States of America, Mobile and Desktop. Unknown represents web browser for which we were unable to determine a 3rd party cookie policy, future or current. Blocked represents web browser that block 3rd party cookies, whether they offer consumer override or not. Allowed by default represents web browser that allow 3rd party cookies by default but allow the consumer to opt-out. Allowed represents web browsers that offer no 3rd party cookie protection.

Healthcare Marketing with First-Party Data

While many healthcare providers will see the end of third-party cookies as a threat to their advertising and marketing plans, it could actually be a positive change if it leads to greater emphasis on first-party data – in other words, the information collected directly from patients and customers.

First-party data can enable providers to connect more deeply with consumers. With good data and robust internal analytics, health systems can create a variety of highly specific patient cohorts, such as:

  • Patients with poorly managed diabetes
  • Elective surgery consumers with a preference for ambulatory sites
  • Consumers who prefer in-person primary care to telehealth

Because providers own first-party data – unlike those third-party cookies – they can address these cohorts in different ways as patient needs evolve and the environment changes.

Today, the cohorts can be used to increase profitability in the FFS space through two primary mechanisms: directing patients towards the right care settings and/or appealing to existing and prospective patients by offering a more tailored experience than competitors. Today’s consumers expect a high level of engagement, as tech giants like Amazon and Netflix create a personalized experience. While this is much more difficult to obtain in healthcare – due to privacy laws, increased complexity of preferences, and increased dimensionality of consumer data – we know that consistent and personalized engagement with patients drives brand loyalty and patient satisfaction.

Tomorrow, the use of first-party data will serve as a building block for value-based care. As this transition occurs, health systems with robust data will be empowered to serve patients in previously unremunerative ways. For example, the risk-bearing organization under value-based care may opt to provide a Fresh Food Pharmacy (like Geisinger Health) for the patient cohort with poorly managed diabetes – not only to improve the lives and health of these patients, but also to decrease the downside risk for the organization and drive better patient outcomes.

Cookies were a relatively easy way to target customers online, so it might be hard for some providers to wean themselves off the “empty calories.” But a concerted effort to collect and analyze accurate, insightful patient data will pay off in both the short- and long term.

Healthcare systems that lack the technology or specialized staff to collect, centralize, and structure data will find themselves significantly behind systems with such capabilities, particularly in areas such as marketing, customer service, operations, and revenue management. If you’re interested in better understanding how to navigate the transition to value-based care or how to establish strategic analytical processes, please schedule a call with us!

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