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Emotion in the Consumer Mindset: A Foreign Health Aid Analogy

Businessman showing a full range of emotionsEveryday doctors, administrators and other healthcare professionals are asked to perform the herculean task of distilling complex data into bite-size pieces of information easily understood by the average person.

But how do we convey our message if the consumer doesn't understand the nature of the surrounding debate, its context, or even his various options?

Start with what the healthcare consumer does know.

Healthcare consumer decisions are not evidence-based. They're emotional.

We bounce around a lot of industry terms in healthcare: Magnet certification, center-based care, Patient Centered Medical Homes, Accountable Care Organization — terms that are completely meaningless, or boggling at best, to even our most sophisticated patients.

What does a breast cancer patient care whether her provider's nurses have Magnet certification? It doesn't change whether the doctor to whom she has entrusted her life is the most knowledgeable physician she could consult or her perception of whether or not she is receiving the best, most advanced treatment possible — balancing the art of medicine with the science of medicine.

As we have spoken of before, a provider's knowledge often has very little to do with how patients perceive the care they receive. It’s unlikely the physicians in your practice or hospital will ever be interrogated about their academic performance, work in residency, or publications.

Patients have an altogether personal and emotional experience of healthcare.

"He has great bedside manner," "she saved my mother's life last year," or even, "this is where I am covered by my insurance plan," are all common refrains. Consumers are driven by perceived value — word of mouth, prior experience, perks and (often) price point.

Healthcare is an emotional, sometimes irrational topic. When there is only approximately 50% compliance to anti-rejection medications for organ transplants — the consequences of which can be death — we’re operating under different consumer behavior and decision rules.

Look at the Consumer-Industry divide in microcosm.

We might illustrate the emotive nature of the healthcare consumer by looking at the everyman's perspective on the debate about federal spending on foreign health aid.

You may ask what has foreign health aid expenditure to do with the healthcare industry in America, but the two perceptions are more closely related than you may think.

The Kaiser Foundation's 2013 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health found that over 60% of Americans believe that the federal government spends "too much" on foreign aid. The average respondent believed that the US spends upwards of 28% of its annual budget on foreign aid (the actual number is less than 1%).

Many Americans also think that that aid is given to other nations without a delineated purpose. In fact, virtually all money spent abroad by the US is given to specific projects with clearly-stated goals and terms for use.

When respondents were informed of the real percentage of expenditure, half modified their answer from believing the US was overspending to believing that the amount of expenditure on foreign aid was "about right."

This anomaly is simple to understand — in a domestic economic environment where real wages are falling, job security is fleeting and fear abounds, the thought of giving things away to other nations is unpopular.

However, 6 in 10 Americans felt the U.S. was spending too little or just enough on improving health in developing countries.  Connecting the foreign spending to an emotional topic drove advocacy even when the topic of foreign aid, in general, was negative.

The federal government doesn't always do the best job of educating voters about costs and benefits.

There is a divide between perception of value and actual value in the field.

Put a face on suffering abroad, though, and suddenly you'll find a wellspring of support. When Typhoon Hainan hit the Philippines last month, the pictures were ghastly. And Americans — not just the federal government, but run-of-the-mill, individual citizens — rushed to open their hearts and their pocketbooks.

We've seen this behavior time and again: the Indonesian tsunami, Fukushima, the Balkan Wars, the Ethiopian famines.  Empathy has that kind of power.

Now apply the lesson to your own healthcare marketing and communication.

As the above example has show, sterile titles, designations, certifications or licensures aren't going to bring patients into your facility, fill your beds and improve your margins.

Humanity will — real people with names, faces, lives and experiences.

You need to sell your patient successes. An advertisement in your local paper touting your hard-won Magnet certification won't resonate well with the patients you’re trying to bring into your facility. But an advertorial in which Mrs. Johnson tells about the night she had her stroke, when ER nurse Jackie R. held her hand and reassured her while Dr. Smith ordered her life-saving TPA?

Now that's something.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our healthcare market research, Brent Walker will be partnering with Stephen Longley, CEO of TPG (an Omnicom agency) to present insights on the healthcare consumer at the 2014 Pharma Market Research Conference in Parsippany, New Jersey Feb 6-7, 2014.

The 2014 Pharma Market Research Conference is the premier gathering of senior level pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and diagnostics executives in market research.

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

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