Over the course of the pandemic-related shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, Americans have increased their screen time. In addition to filling our hours at home, we have also contributed to the learning algorithms of streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, which offer us ever more personalized entertainment content.
The success of personalized content recommendation engines for entertainment suggests an opportunity for other sectors, particularly professional education in healthcare. Increasingly, continuing healthcare education is migrating online: one continuing medical education (CME) provider reports that 72 percent of healthcare providers who previously preferred in-person CME will switch to online delivery. While online continuing education is now more available and more popular among clinicians, it is usually delivered via a self-service library or “live” courses that are presented virtually. The virtual, on-demand format works, both in terms of being highly effective for learning outcomes and serving time-poor clinicians through on-demand access, but providers of continuing healthcare education can deliver better outcomes and a better user experience by applying the insights of personalization that streaming platforms have harnessed to deliver content that is targeted and personalized to their consumers’ interests.
“Netflix of continuing healthcare education” does not yet exist, but there have been some small studies of learning platforms that make use of some of the principles of personalization. For example, the Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions found that rheumatology learners who followed a personalized course of study were likelier to participate in multiple learning activities on the platform and reported a more-than-two fold increase in follow-up participation in surveys and additional learning opportunities. Professional healthcare associations, digital education companies, healthcare provider organizations and other groups that offer continuing education can start to implement the principles of personalization in a few ways.
1. Segment your customers and map the user journey with data-driven insights
The power of personalization lies in the data at your disposal, so understanding how your users are really using the existing education tool is crucial. This insight can be achieved through observation and interviews at the start. Ask questions like, what is the typical course of study? Who are our core users and how can we segment them? What are the goals and objectives of the users we want to attract and retain? What is the typical duration of a course of study and how long do our users remain active?
Many healthcare education companies already collect some user data upfront, including provider type, institutional affiliation, years in practice and specialty. These basic inputs can be used to create user segmentation. Many continuing healthcare education courses also require pre- and post-tests to give users credit for completing the course. These data can be used to understand the level of understanding among users, as well as make recommendations about subsequent courses of interest for the users.
2. Deeply understand the content you offer
In addition to understanding your users on a deep level, knowing what content you have available is crucial to offer the users the optimal experience and insights for their education. In our experience, healthcare education is often offered in long blocks of content, with minimal detail provided to the user on what they can expect from the course at what point in the video. Educational providers can get more specific in their content offerings by tagging long videos with information like the speaker’s name and expertise and the specific topics covered at predictable intervals throughout the video so viewers can easily navigate to the information they require.
Once the organization clearly understands what content they have available and who their users are, they will be better able to fill content gaps with the specific information their customers are interested in. Further developing user journeys and content roadmaps that incorporate new courses will also provide a compelling stream of new information that keeps users coming back.
The combination of a deep understanding of both users and content will enable education providers to implement the “infinite play” that streaming providers offer. Who among us hasn’t accidentally binged a streaming show, just because the next episode keeps playing? Professional education providers can create long blocks of programming that build on the previous content, keeping users engaged, entertained, and learning for longer periods of time.
3. Make it available across viewing platforms
The retention advantage that streaming providers have harnessed is making their content available anywhere and on-demand. How convenient it would be for a clinician to pull up a 20-minute “episode” on COVID-19 protocols on their phone during a mid-shift break. Equally, turning on a continuing education program on the smart TV after work would be maximally convenient and compelling. Personalization goes beyond content and includes real-world use patterns.
The organization that can literally meet users where they are will have a crucial value proposition above and beyond the competition. Implementing personalization principles will require investment of time and money to achieve the advantages that personalization brings like improved retention and longevity of users, greater lifetime value of users, better data, and continuous improvement. Without making the upfront investments, there is a significant risk of negative experiences around streaming, including buffering, latency and poor picture quality that may drive users away permanently. The financial outlay should not be taken lightly, but our experience with personalization across industries indicates that this trend is here to stay. As personalization becomes more common in content development and delivery, the costs associated with building learning algorithms will decrease, making the opportunity more attainable for a larger number of organizations.
The “streaming wars” of 2020 have shown us that consumers expect and prefer personalized content. As healthcare providers and learners become more accustomed to personalized content and products in their leisure time, they will begin to demand these changes in their continuing professional education as well. The organizations that are prepared to deliver it most effectively are likeliest to win the users and revenues that are to be earned.
Jenna Phillips is a healthcare leader at PA Consulting.