Advanced Analytics Drive a Personalized Post-COVID Comeback

July 28, 2021

// By Marcia Simon, APR //

Marcia SimonCHI St. Vincent in Little Rock, Arkansas isn’t waiting for customers to come back on their own. The health system is proactively reaching out to them, using sophisticated analytics to define the target audience with precision accuracy. 

Infectious-disease specialists are beginning to give the all-clear signal to bring patients and families back for routine care. But luring valued community members back to health care facilities is proving to be a communications challenge.

Consciously or not, families have created their new normal, which may include telehealth instead of office visits, reducing the frequency of follow-ups and preventive screenings, and sometimes jumping ship to a new health care provider. How many people who canceled appointments with their PCP have rescheduled? How many women have not had a routine mammogram in the past two years? And importantly, how do you get them back?

Bonnie Ward, market director of marketing and communications, CHI St. Vincent

Bonnie Ward, market director of marketing and communications, CHI St. Vincent

CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock had a head start. Bonnie Ward, market director of marketing and communications for the regional health network serving the state of Arkansas, says the health system started working with Welltok about four years ago for basic CRM services, and their collaboration has grown since then.

Welltok, self-defined as a purpose-driven company committed to improving people’s total well-being, creates customized multichannel outreach campaigns for health care partners, using predictive analytics and multichannel communication such as email, text, live agent, integrated voice, direct mail, and more.

When COVID hit, CHI St. Vincent expanded its work with Welltok to reach the community about COVID protocols, and then vaccinations. Then, once outpatient imaging services reopened, they began outreach to individuals who were overdue for breast and colon cancer screenings. This is one area where people were slow to return, but the Welltok platform, used in conjunction with St. Vincent’s data, turned that around.

Targeted Outreach Drives ROI

Jennifer Ellestad, director of strategic accounts, Welltok

Jennifer Ellestad, director of strategic accounts, Welltok

“We use analytical data to target specific people who need certain services at a specific time,” says Jennifer Ellestad, director of strategic accounts at Welltok. “By analyzing consumer data and EMR (electronic medical record) data, we can see code information to determine which recommended visits occurred, and which didn’t, within a particular health care system.” 

Welltok says it can predict an individual’s needs, risks, and receptivity to outreach with up to 90 percent accuracy using machine learning and AI-embedded technology.

“We worked with Welltok to look at the data to see how many women have not had a mammogram and were considered overdue,” says Ward. “We targeted those women in our primary and secondary service areas and hit the messaging hard in the month of May with a campaign called Memories with Mom that invited women to a contest that involved recalling favorite memories with their mothers, and to learn more about breast health. We used email and direct mail overlaid with a Facebook campaign on top of it as well as earned media.”

“We can send an SMS (text) message that reminds these women to call for an appointment, and also allows them to schedule immediately via a one-click link,” explains Ellestad. “CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock saw a huge response rate to that, because it was such an easy thing for women to do.”

Ward agrees. “Adding an SMS campaign on top of that brought a really great return on that investment,” she says.

Overcoming Care Avoidance

Once COVID hit, people were avoiding the emergency department, even though it was safe and could minimize the life-altering effects that come from putting off needed care. “During COVID, people stopped coming to the emergency department for their very serious acute medical events,” Ward says.

To address the hidden crisis of care avoidance, CHI St. Vincent reached out to community members at risk for heart attack and stroke. “Our campaign strategy reached people through direct mail, SMS texting, and email, and we have seen a really good return to utilization of those services by our patients.”

Direct Mail for New Movers

Communication campaigns can be complex or simple, and tailored to individuals’ preferences and receptivity, depending on the need. Direct mail, for instance, is often perceived as an old-school form of marketing but has proven to be very effective for “new movers” campaigns, according to Ellestad.

“This became huge during COVID as people started moving and making big life changes because of it,” says Ellestad. “You don’t typically have email or cell phone numbers for new movers, so direct mail is the quickest way to get a communication to them. One of the main things people worry about is the need to set up care for their family once they’ve moved to a new location.”

Know Your Market

Even families with whom you have a long-standing relationship may be reevaluating their options. Coming out of COVID, you can’t assume you have their loyalty forever. To retain patients and build a sense of loyalty, it’s important to know your market, your competitors, and how you differ.

“I think patients want to hear from their providers on a more regular basis,” Ward says. “They want to feel like there’s a more personal experience, and I think that’s where, as marketers, we really have to strategize and do some hyper-targeting to make sure that we have a personal angle to our patients. Sending them a letter once a year is over. We have to be more active and present in their lives and show them the value, because they can do more shopping online now than ever before.”

Proactive communication to overcome hesitation, for employees as well as patients, may get a big boost by adding a predictive element from advanced analytics. Machine learning and AI are tools that give an added push over the fence for the anticipated COVID comeback. Developing partnerships with companies that offer these tools may be the solution to drive downstream revenue as hospitals, patients, and families create their own new normal.

Key Takeaways

  • Stay connected with consumers.
  • Keep your messages simple.
  • Call out benefits such as convenience and ease of scheduling.
  • Highlight the things that make you different.
  • Reassure patients that their trusted providers are still here.
  • Emphasize safety.

Marcia Simon, APR, writes about health care, healthtech, and wellness. She provides content, strategic communication, and media relations services on all scales. Email her at or search