High Stakes

What Professional Rugby Can Teach Healthcare About Data

rugbyHealthcare communicators know by now that data is key to winning over decision-makers. But sports data expert Bill Gerrard, a longtime collaborator of Moneyball’s Billy Beane, recently published an article detailing how data is also impacting the game of rugby. Gerrard serves as an analyst for Saracens F.C., a London-based rugby team that has embraced technology and is now reaping the benefits.

Healthcare communicators will note that Gerrard’s top-line findings resonate just as well in our industry.

“Apologies to romantics, but the data shows the kicking game works.”

In rugby, the ball can be advanced two ways: by running or kicking. Traditionalists tend to view kicking as a risky strategy for those who can’t overpower the opposing team. Gerrard’s data, however, shows that a kicking strategy has two distinct advantages, in that it: 1) minimizes risks in one’s own territory; 2) expends less energy by avoiding tackles.

With all the dramatic changes healthcare has undergone, it only makes sense that communications strategies change with it. For communicators, “the kicking game” comes down to reaching target audiences in the most efficient, effective way – and sometimes it requires apologizing (or not) to the romantics. Collect some data of your own to find out what’s working: How are associates receiving system news? Are we using the right messenger? Is ANYONE reading the newsletter? If not, maybe it’s time to give it the boot.

“Deep data analysis increasingly provides insights which can help teams develop successful game plans.”

Gerrard credits his players’ best on-field performance of last year to his management team’s best data analysis. In a crucial week of the season, his squad’s data report tracked the strengths and weaknesses, along with the smallest tendencies, of every player on the field. By doing so, his side was prepared for everything it saw and played accordingly.

Similarly, it’s crucial for today’s communicators to work not only harder, but smarter. When the Cleveland Clinic decided to invest in social media, team members talked to clinicians and used data to identify three “personas” they intended to reach – three imaginary consumers with unique interests, health concerns and family structures, all based on what their data showed. Today, they’re one of America’s most social media-savvy hospitals, and other organizations are replicating their data-driven game plan.

“Data is increasingly important in rugby, and the way technology is going, that is not going to change.”

The man who hired Gerrard, the team’s technical director, is a former rugby player. During his playing days, however, he also practiced primary care and was able to advise teammates on priming their bodies. That, notes Gerrard, is the way of the future: building a team that can bring outside expertise but also has an on-the-ground understanding of the game.

This trend has already reached healthcare. More and more health systems are hiring away executives from other industry sectors to run hospitals. As healthcare continues to evolve into a consumer-driven business, tomorrow’s marketing and communications professionals must learn to apply the insights and tools from other industries to their own.

For coaches, players and managers alike, an understanding of how to leverage data brings a dangerous new element to your team.


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