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Focus Group Healthcare Consumers

David K. Foot, author of Boom Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift, has said that “demographics explains two-thirds of everything.” A demographics and economics expert, Foot has spent years studying how demographic shifts impact society, governments and industries—including healthcare. But what of the remaining one-third? Perhaps the answer lies in an insight-gathering practice frequently used by consumer-oriented brands: market research such as ethnography, conjoint and need/gap analyses, brand equity monitors and focus groups. While holding a focus group is standard practice among retailers, some might consider it a disruptive innovation in some circles of healthcare. But to manage and, indeed, thrive in today’s evolving healthcare landscape, a start with focus groups may be just what the doctor ordered.

Are You Assuming Too Much about Healthcare Consumers?

In a recent Forbes article entitled, “What Procter & Gamble Can Teach the Healthcare Industry: Assume Nothing about Patients,” Sachin H. Jain, Chief Medical Officer at CareMore Health System writes, “There is no substitute for hearing directly from patients.” Inspired by AG Lafley, who started his first stint as CEO of the Procter and Gamble Company in 2000 and coined the mantra, “Consumer Is Boss,” Jain decided that CareMore needed to gather similar input in order to better serve its Medicare and Medicaid healthcare consumers. To supplement existing data, Jain began hosting regular meetings with CareMore patients.

Held over meals to eliminate any resemblance to clinical encounters, the focus groups offered some interesting insights.

  • Unless you ask, you’re just guessing. Jain admits that healthcare providers make many presumptions about patients, noting, “We make the mental leap of saying, ‘If I were a patient, this is what I would want.’” After a year of meeting with patients, he realized that while such assumptions are made in good faith, they are “biased unevenly by our own experience and expertise.”
  • When you listen, you learn. Based on the informal meetings, Jain came away with actionable insights. For example, the patients felt like CareMore’s outreach—while good—could be even more structured, leading to the addition of a clinical navigator position. He also learned that many patients were interested in digital health tools, which some might find surprising among an older demographic.
  • Patients benefit from the focus groups directly. Jain made another exciting discovery from these meetings. The patients worked together, offering advice to each other based on their own health issues and experiences with CareMore. Notably, at the first meeting a 72-year-old woman took time out to show the others how she was using a smartphone app to help manage her medication schedule. As a result, CareMore is developing more support groups to help patients navigate their health issues more confidently.

While the health system had a considerable amount of data about the more than 100,000 Medicare and Medicaid patients it served across eight states, these focus groups provided much-needed insights that will lead to meaningful changes in how CareMore operates and interacts with patients.

Transforming How We Think about Patients

In a previous blog, we talked about how taking a more consumer-centric approach would better ensure the viability of healthcare brands in the future. While for many it feels counter-intuitive to focus on consumers, rather than patients, it may be exactly what today’s healthcare consumers want: An Advisory.com blog from earlier this year quoted one focus group participant who said, “With all due respect, I don’t want ‘patient-centered care’ unless I’m on my back in the hospital. When I’m not critical, I’m not your patient, you are my doctor.” The statement exemplifies how much the patient role has changed in recent years.

To make inroads with healthcare consumers, you need to think like a retailer. Focus groups are just one step.  Quantitative studies (surveys, whether online, on paper, or phone-driven) are the next step, focused on healthcare consumer needs, wants, attitudes, and beliefs.   This goes beyond the typical patient satisfaction studies that most hospitals and health systems conduct; these pre-suppose what is important to patients and often do not focus on what really matters to them… at least not with any depth.

The 2015 c2b Consumer Diagnostic is a national study of healthcare consumer attitudes, behaviors and needs across channels of healthcare delivery.  The 2015 study has more than 50 million data points on healthcare consumers, and healthcare organizations can license this data for pennies on the dollar relative to designing, executing and analyzing their own prospective research.

Take a look at how retailers are actually engaging with healthcare consumers. Earlier this year, a summit on disruptive innovation in healthcare featured mPower, a smartphone app developed as part of Apple’s ResearchKit that helps individuals with Parkinson disease track their symptoms in real time and share that information with researchers.

As another example of disruptive innovation in healthcare, c2b solutions has developed a psychographic segmentation model that predicts, with 91.1% accuracy, which of five distinct segments a consumer belongs based on his/her approach to health and wellness. Psychographics pertain to people’s values, personality, lifestyle and motivations, answering why people do what they do.  Each segment has unique communication preferences, responding to segment-specific messages to activate them toward positive health behaviors.

Psychographic segmentation is part of Procter & Gamble’s “secret sauce” for influencing consumer behavior and building billion dollar brands… I should know, as I worked there for 20 years in marketing and founded c2b solutions with partners who deeply understood psychographic segmentation and proved its effectiveness in a healthcare environment.

How could some “outside-the-box” thinking transform your interactions with healthcare consumers?

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

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