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4 Revealing Insights about How Seniors Make Healthcare Decisions


When a parent speaks to a physician on behalf of a minor child, there’s no question about the parent’s right to get details about that child’s healthcare needs. The same isn’t true when an adult child needs to get details about an elderly parent’s care. 

A New York Times blog introduced a scenario to which many can relate: an adult child was on the phone with the pharmacy on behalf of her hard-of-hearing mother, only to be told that the matter could only be discussed with the patient.

Frustrated, the woman “… told the pharmacy to hold on for a second, then impersonated her mother just long enough to say that it was O.K. to talk to her daughter. Resuming the conversation in her own voice, she figured out the medication question.”  

As Baby Boomers age, this will likely become a familiar path for many, but it’s not the only route elderly healthcare consumers take when it comes to making decisions about medical care. Let’s look at some other ways that healthcare decisions are made and how psychographic segmentation can help.


Study Shows Surprising Approaches to Senior Care Decision Making

Several years ago, a team of researchers from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice undertook an investigation into healthcare decision-making among older adults. Noting that, “Some elderly people receive tests or interventions from which they have low likelihood of benefit or for which the goal is not aligned with their values,” the team wanted to capture older adults’ experiences in healthcare decision-making to resolve these issues.

View More: Psychographic Segmentation and the Healthcare Consumer PDF 

The researchers noted that communication barriers were common, with some study participants saying that they felt “unheard” and were less likely to ask questions as a result. Others believed physicians had “financial motives” for recommendations. 

Such communication challenges beg the question, “How do elderly patients get medical information about their options?”   

1. The doctor.

Some patients depend exclusively on a physician’s expertise. One respondent noted, “I’m not a doctor. I do not know why we are doing this. I have to take his word on this, but I can question him.” But given some of the communication issues the researchers discovered, elderly patients may struggle with asking the right questions or getting the answers they need.

2. Personal experience

Others rely on personal experience. Past healthcare experiences—good and bad—influence elderly patients’ current decisions. However, approaching critical healthcare decisions based on what may be an emotional perspective isn’t the best starting point.

3. Other people’s experience.

Family and friends are another source for elderly patients. As one survey participant who lives in a senior care facility explained, she heard so many positive stories about cataract operations, she decided to move forward with her own surgery.

4. Written materials or the internet.

One respondent told researchers: “I read every piece of paper I can see. Any time I go into a place, I pick up the pamphlets that they got on diseases and just read them.” Another, who preferred searching the web, admitted: “I spend a lot of time looking up a variety of things. Every medicine, before I take something new I always check it out and I’m alert to possible side effects.” But the quality and accuracy of these sources may vary greatly, leading to flawed decision making.


The 5 Psychographic Segments

Unless healthcare providers ask, however, they just don’t have these and other insights into their patients—whether they are elderly, middle-aged or young. 

The c2b solutions psychographic segmentation model, which classifies patients based on their inherent beliefs, motivations and preferences related to health and wellness, can help healthcare providers better understand what patients need and expect in terms of communication to make informed decisions and motivate desired health behaviors. For example, an elderly patient who is a Balance Seeker (one of five distinct psychographic segments in healthcare) will likely conduct research into a variety of treatment options, while a Direction Taker will be more inclined to follow a physician’s recommendation. Balance Seekers and Self Achievers will rely on the internet for health information to a much greater degree than the other psychographic segments. Each psychographic segment responds to different messages and propositions based on their unique motivations, in addition to information source preferences.

As the authors of the medical decision making study concluded, “To bring very old patients into the decision process, clinicians will need to modify interviewing skills and spend additional time eliciting their values, goals, and preferences.” Psychographic segmentation can put you on a faster path to understanding.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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