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The Little Things Can Make the Biggest Difference in Health Care

doctors-labcoat-graphicMark Twain wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” A recent article in H&HN echoed the iconic American author’s sentiment. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. While some aspects of health care reform — EHRs, meaningful use, health insurances exchanges — attract the lion’s share of attention, the rise of health care consumerism means that effective communication is also integral to transforming health care in America. Is it already part of your strategy?

5 Words to Reconsider

In the article “How Choosing Our Words Carefully Can Drive Change in Health Care,” Wendy Leebov, recognized thought leader and author of numerous books on the patient experience, notes, “In recent times, we’ve improved the words we use to better support the compelling changes needed in our health care system.” Patient experience has replaced patient satisfaction, acknowledging that ‘satisfaction’ is just a pale reflection of the bigger picture. But, she also points out that health care organizations still have work to do when it comes to choosing the right words to support health care’s transformation. Leebov offers several examples:

  1. Patient — Not everyone who interacts with the health care system is a patient, but the term is used universally. While it does describe someone who is at the hospital for a treatment to address a specific illness, what about others that must be engaged to drive change — the people focused on prevention and wellness? Hospitals and other health care providers need to think in terms of clients, not just patients.
  2. Caretaker/Caregiver — If health care providers want to engage consumers, Leebov suggests that eliminating words that reinforce the hierarchy of the past is a critical step. Instead of using terms like ‘caretaker’ or ‘caregiver,’ organizations need to use language that encourages partnership and collaboration.
  3. Discharge Plan — Like the previous example, ‘discharge plan’ focuses too much on the provider and not enough on the individual. Instead, Leebov recommends terms that are more meaningful to a patient leaving the hospital, such as ‘post-hospital recovery plan’ or ‘get-well action plan.’
  4. Compliance — ‘Compliance’ has a negative connotation for individuals. In Leebov’s view, “This word disempowers patients. We reveal an attitude that the doctor knows best and expects obedience.” Instead, she prefers ‘adherence’ because it supports the idea that patients have stake in sticking with a plan and positions the health care provider as a supporter in that endeavor. Reinforcing these points, my team at P&G conducted extensive market research on compliance, persistency and adherence, and found that, subconsciously, ‘compliance’ does mean “to obey.” America is a rebellious culture, so telling a patient “to obey” is likely to backfire.  ‘Adherence’ is not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  5. Complaint — Talk about negative — no one wants to be branded as a ‘whiner.’ Instead, health care providers need to talk to individuals in terms of their concerns and goals to move the discussion away from judgment and towards better health.

Ultimately, says Leebov, “It’s a matter of aligning our language with our health care system of the future, not the past.” 

Understanding the New Health Care Consumer

As individuals have taken on more responsibility for the costs of their own health care, they demand more from the health care system. This shift to healthcare consumerism means that hospitals, physician practices, insurers and other health care-related organizations must focus more on consumer expectations.

As successful retailers know, successfully marketing to consumers to increase engagement requires greater insights into individuals — a one-size-fits-all approach is not effective.

Consumer segmentation can help organizations increase the relevance of their communications, but it must drill down beyond basic demographic differences. Even when consumers share a similar health condition — such as diabetes — they won’t all respond in the same way to an engagement initiative. The proprietary psychographic segmentation model that PatientBond has developed offers deeper insights by classifying consumers into distinct groups based on the different needs, motivations and attitudes that influence their behaviors. A person belonging to the Self Achiever segment and one belonging to the Direction Taker segment will need two completely different approaches — and even a single word can move the needle between engagement and indifference.  There are distinct “words to use & words to lose” when communicating with each of five psychographic segments to drive patient activation.

Read our whitepaper or contact PatientBond to learn how psychographic segmentation can empower your efforts to successfully connect with individuals in an era of health care consumerism.

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


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