Achieving Insight-Driven Care: Rely on Data and Behavioral Science to Unlock Real Change


Applied Clinical Trials

President of Commercial Solutions at Syneos Health, Michelle Keefe, writes how the industry must take an additional step beyond explaining and predicting customer behavior, and employ evidence-based strategies to change their behavior by helping customers make well-informed decisions.

“Proceed boldly” is a common mantra within industries experiencing intense market pressures. But is it suited to the life sciences? Can pharmaceutical companies embrace unfamiliar approaches, replace their decades-old traditions, and view their stakeholders through a new lens? 

Experience suggests that new directions are possible for companies that make use of data to focus their resources and of behavioral science to understand their stakeholders. With insight comes the winning combination of inspiration and confidence. 


Deriving strategic clarity from data 

A recent study by Managed Healthcare Executive found that leveraging clinical data and analytics is one of the biggest challenges that healthcare leaders face. Typically, they have issues with managing large data sets, working across data silos, and extracting data that’s meaningful to different stakeholder segments. Meanwhile, studies have shown a direct correlation between an organization’s “data literacy,” or the ability to turn data into meaningful information, and its financial performance.[1]

The fundamental step in making data more actionable is to systematize one’s approach to it. Not all data are necessary; it’s a matter of turning to just the right data. Often, the most useful data sets for providing clarity in healthcare decision making aren’t from large, legacy, proprietary sources. Frequently they’re from quickly accessible – and sometimes even open – sources.

The right data can answer questions of “who,” “where,” and “when,” revealing which patients might benefit most from a treatment, where those patients can be found, and when in their treatment journey a treatment will be most helpful and successful. Such information can be used to direct resources in both clinical and commercial operations. 

For instance, we just worked with a respiratory leader to identify where to focus field force spend. We started from the averages: practices are visited 36 times per year. We created a responsive model that showed which specific doctors should be visited 39 times per year vs 32 times vs zero to get to a higher market impact and ultimately take $2 million of waste out of the system. 


Unlocking real change through behavioral science

Data, however, cannot answer “how” questions such as: how can we connect with people and motivate them despite the noise, doubt, and fear present when they are ill? For that, we must turn to behavioral science, the study of human behavior. Behavioral science explains why people do what they do and which personal levers can activate or change their behaviors. What small “nudges” can serve as reminders and relevant motivators to help patients meet their goals, talk to a physician, explore a clinical trial, or stick with a treatment? 

At the core of applying behavioral science to healthcare is the notion of strengthening resilience. Most patients, when facing a health challenge, go about it with intention. They want to get well or stop the pain or lessen their symptoms. But not everyone continues to fulfill their intention when the work becomes difficult. Their “bucket of motivation” begins to leak. 

Research conducted by Strava, the social network for athletes, found that most people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions by January 12th.[2]Imagine if patients only adhered to their treatment regimen for 12 days! Although there is more intrinsic motivation in healthcare, patients often need help to complete a complex, critical healthcare journey. They may need support and motivation to try and try again when they face a barrier or simply miss a treatment. Behavioral science reveals how to refill the bucket of motivation to make sure there’s always enough. Just as clinical data leads to precision medicine, behavioral science leads to precision interventions. 


The benefit of hybrid insight 

The most successful programs use data to narrow the focus as well as behavioral science to provide context for very personal, human connections. 

Behavioral insights can be gathered and employed in clever ways. One market leader with a treatment for a chronic disease sought to improve patient adherence. Physicians were given a three-question screening tool to identify patients with adherence risks and to discern their motivational styles. And, the company’s website incorporated motivational cues. Together these steps drove an increase in adherence across the company’s chronic disease therapies. 



Life science leaders are managing pressure on time and resources at a moment when the velocity of change and opportunity is faster than ever. Companies are entering new markets, engaging new customers and leveraging new technologies. They need to validate unfamiliar approaches and drive change.

Many healthcare leaders are struggling with gaining strategic traction around that transformation. They understand they should be doing things in bold new ways, but the clarity around how isn’t always there. Organizations can only transform when they have data-driven proof of where to focus and an incredibly deep understanding of the stakeholders.

As an industry we need to take the next step beyond ‘explaining’ and ‘predicting’ customer behavior, we need to employ evidence-based strategies to change it by helping customers make the well-informed decisions and follow through on their intentions.  The insight derived from combining data for focus and behavioral science for relevance has the potential to change the industry, as well as patients’ lives. 

About the Author

Michelle Keefe is the President of Commercial Solutions at Syneos Health.

[1]Balasurbramanian, Arun, MD, “Top 5 Data Analytics Trends for 2019,” DATAQUEST, December 21, 2018.

[2]Khalil, Shireen, “New Year’s resolutions last exactly this long,” New York Post,” December 21, 2018.

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