Google has rolled out a new reporting tool, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) with Universal Analytics (UA) and GA360 deprecating on July 1, 2023. GA4 was primarily created for the future of GDPR-compliant measurement. As a result, GA4 changes how data is collected, stored and moved. In addition, GA4 tracks user activity across websites, apps and devices for clearer vision into how consumers engage with companies.
What do these changes mean for healthcare organizations?
The standards for data privacy are higher now than ever before. The landscape has been constantly evolving in recent years, from developments in technology to the new HIPAA guidance bulletin issued in December 2022. It’s important for healthcare marketers to take these standards seriously to protect patients’ data, maintain patients’ trust, and mitigate the organization’s legal risk.
In addition to analytics advancements GA4 will offer, there are many privacy enhancements that support online privacy. GA4 will reduce the reliance on first and third party cookies by discarding IP addresses and leveraging anonymized user data through signal detection and machine learning. Google will also introduce Consent Mode as part of this transition, which respects user cookie consent decisions, and models and populates data accordingly.
Though this change in Google Analytics is definitely a huge step in the right direction, it’s also worth noting that Google currently will not sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA). For full protection and HIPAA compliance related to data storage and transfer, healthcare organizations can also choose to take a more conservative approach by working with a third-party company under a BAA to de-identify data gathered through pixels prior to sending the data back to Google.
Navigating user privacy regulation is nothing new for our team at Lewis. Our years of experience in the financial, education and housing verticals (some of the first to be impacted by laws that limit finite ad targeting) as well as our deep background in healthcare have poised us for guiding hospital systems, clinics, and healthcare providers in this moment.
Data Collection & Retention
Another factor to keep in mind related to data collection is that many tools healthcare organizations use for call tracking, forms, secure patient portals, find a doctor, and more may be incompatible with GA4. During the transition from UA to GA4, healthcare marketers should ensure all third-party vendors related to the website and/or app have a plan in place for data storage and collection prior to and after GA4 implementation.
GA4 will also offer flexibility in data retention. The new version will default to 2 months but can be adjusted for up to 14 months. Campaign attribution should be evaluated to select the most appropriate retention window, especially for service lines that have a lengthier conversion path.
Analyzing the ways patients engage with a healthcare organization across devices and platforms can help inform processes and communication strategies to ultimately improve the experiences of both patients and staff.
Another benefit of GA4 is that it streamlines the ability to track patients across both websites as well as apps used for functions such as patient portals and appointment scheduling. This feature offers a more holistic view of the patient life cycle with privacy-safe and actionable insights. GA4 will more precisely attribute results to individual steps of a patient’s journey so a marketing team can measure ROI more accurately. Through Google Signals, users who signed into their Google accounts can be de-duplicated across multiple devices, providing a better understanding of interactions across devices and sessions. GA4 allows for granular measures, such as the time taken from a homepage visit to scheduling an appointment as well as whether a patient uses a mobile device to schedule the appointment but uses a desktop for the new patient forms.
GA4 also has a more effective definition for bounce rate that accounts for multiple types of engagement. For instance, if a prospective patient’s first interaction is more educational and exploratory, that user may spend time reading about treatment options. In the old model, if that user left without any other actions in that first session, it would be considered a bounce, even if the user took several minutes to digest the content and then returned at a later point to take the next step. Now that there is a time element to this metric, the new bounce rate will be more reflective of engagement metrics to show a fuller picture of users engaging with content and to provide a better indicator of a page’s effectiveness within each portion of a patient’s journey.
In addition to capabilities related to cross-device and engagement measurement, GA4 is driven by AI and machine learning. Its Predictive Metrics help fill in measurement gaps and predict the probability of a conversion, such as a prospective patient’s likelihood to schedule an appointment in the next month. These insights can help further inform both audience prospecting strategies and creative to audiences most likely to revisit the site and/or convert.
At Lewis, these new insights and applications for the healthcare industry are at the forefront of our planning and optimization efforts. GA4 is positioned to benefit companies and marketing performance, but transitions can be challenging. If you have questions or concerns related to GA4, we would be happy to assist.