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Legislation Can't Change Patient Behaviors

patients-waitingWhile hospitals have been feverishly jumping through hoops to meet mandated health care reforms, officials and care providers have found that encouraging patients to reform their own behaviors is not easily legislated. Just look at New York City’s recent attempt to ban jumbo-sized soft drinks.

The controversial law was welcomed by health advocates, but it drew the ire of both ordinary citizens and businesses, becoming a target of the formidable American Beverage Association. After suffering defeats in two lower courts, the City took the fight to New York’s highest court — and lost again.

If laws can’t drive patients to make better health decisions, then it is up to the health care industry to develop persuasive patient engagement strategies.

Confronting a Major Health Issue

Obesity in America has increased over 50 percent in less than 40 years — and not just among the adult population. September marks the observance of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and statistics shared by the CDC make the need for greater awareness abundantly clear:

  • From 1980 through 2012, obesity among children ages 6-11 increased from 7 percent to 18 percent.
  • In the same time period, obesity among adolescents increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent.

And on top of immediate health risks, childhood obesity also increases risk factors for adult health problems like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression and many forms of cancer. These conditions come with a hefty price — causing nearly one in 10 deaths in America and costing over $200 billion a year.

How Can Health Care Providers Inspire Higher Patient Engagement?

The City of New York and its Board of Health may have had good intentions, but legislating enforced calorie counting backfired in a big way.

A recent study published in the behavioral nutrition journal Appetite suggests an approach that may be more persuasive — creating visual representations to make abstract numbers more meaningful. Given the popularity of infographics across many different industries, including health care, the results of the study may not come as a complete surprise. They were, however, revealing.

The research team, headed by John Milton Adams of the University of Alabama, set up tables at a university and invited 109 passers-by to take one 12-ounce drink, choosing between sugar-sweetened or sugar-free beverages.

On both days of testing, the sugary beverages appeared with a sign indicating how many grams of sugar were in the sugar-sweetened beverages. On one of the days, however, the display also included a pyramid of sugar cubes representing how much sugar was in a single beverage.

The result? People who saw the sign only were 3 times more likely to choose the sugary drink than those who saw the sugar cube pyramid. It was clear evidence that a concrete visual is more effective at inspiring a desired behavior change than numbers alone.

More importantly, during the study, the research team asked half of the participants to take a short quiz that highlighted the health risks of excess sugar consumption. The forced reminder did not deter people from taking sugary drinks, and researchers noted that the “fear appeal” actually elicited a defensive response that negated the effect of the warnings.

Developing Strategies that Work

In order to address broad population health issues — like childhood obesity — and motivate individual patients, the health care industry must identify more effective patient engagement strategies. Creating infographics is just one small step.

Inundating patients with information and education isn’t the answer, either. According to research by Johns Hopkins’ schools of Public Health and Medicine, 53% of physicians are overweight or obese. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a quarter of Licensed Practical Nurses smoke. If the most informed and educated people regarding health struggle to maintain healthy habits, how is the average patient expected to do any better?

Organizations need deeper insights into how consumer segments approach health and wellness and respond to education so they can tailor messaging appropriately. The c2b Consumer Diagnostic divides health care consumers into five key segments based on c2b solutions’ proprietary psychographic segmentation model:

  • Balance Seekers
  • Willful Endurers
  • Priority Jugglers
  • Self-Achievers
  • Direction Takers

Each psychographic segment has unique motivations and information preferences, so maximizing patient activation involves tailoring patient care appropriately.

Understanding influencers in decision-making can help you craft better patient messaging and choose the most appropriate channels to successfully change behaviors. If you’d like learn how to create patient engagement strategies that address individual needs within these five segments, contact c2b solutions today.

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

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