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Want to Improve Health Literacy? Psychographics Can Make It Happen.


Five years ago, then Surgeon General of the United States Regina Benjamin wrote, “Prevention is the foundation of the public health system and the heart of my work as Surgeon General. But we cannot begin to address prevention if our patients do not know what we are trying to say to them.”  She went on to suggest that failing to share the health information in a way that can be easily understood by patients is the equivalent of not treating them at all. She wasn’t just employing embellishment to make a point. Low health literacy contributes to poor management of chronic conditions, reduced use of preventive care, greater frequency of preventable hospitalizations and poorer health. Psychographic segmentation, which divides individuals into five unique groups based on behaviors, motivating factors and attitudes towards healthcare, can help.

Why the Focus on Health Literacy Now?

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that nearly 50 percent of all adults in the U.S. find it difficult to understand and act upon health information ranging from following medication regimens to selecting the most appropriate insurance plan. In fact, only 12 percent of adults are considered “proficient.” While health literacy can be especially challenging for certain segments of the population — those for whom English is a second language, for example — these statistics serve to show that low health literacy knows no demographic boundaries: age, race, income and even level of education. Is it any wonder that, as the Huffington Post points out, at least 5 percent of the nation’s overall health expenditures can be attributed to poor health literacy?

In raw numbers, based on the $2.9 trillion price tag for national healthcare expenditures in 2013, we’re talking about $145 billion in potentially avoidable healthcare costs given greater literacy. If the costs alone aren’t sufficient motivation, the ACA mandate related to population health management provides more incentive for hospitals to improve health literacy within its own community.

An Opportunity Among Baby Boomers

Let’s look at one particular segment of healthcare users: Baby Boomers. According to research, one in three Medicare patients has difficulty understanding and following recommendations by healthcare providers. With many Boomers reaching Medicare eligibility on a daily basis, improving the health literacy of this segment could have a significant positive impact on both patient outcomes and healthcare costs.

Dr. Hany Abdelaal, president of VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans and an expert on elder independence explains his organization’s approach to health literacy among Medicare patients, including Boomers:

  1. Speak plainly — whether in person or in writing. He suggests avoiding jargon, making instructions clear and specific and breaking down complex explanations into shorter, more easily digested information.
  2. Expand on numerical concepts. Eliminate any potential confusion by clarifying any instructions related with numbers. For instance, instead of telling a patient to take two pills, twice daily, you should be specific, “Take two pills in the morning and two pills in the evening.”
  3. Have patients “teach back” what they’ve learned. It’s a common tactic for ensuring that students understand a lesson, and it can be just as effective when used with patients.
  4. Schedule regular touch points. From phone calls to in-home visits, frequently touching base with patients ensures they understand and follow recommended care plans.
  5. Organize information strategically. Keep important information at the beginning of a conversation and in materials that you distribute. This ensures that patients are exposed to the critical health information when they are most tuned in.

These practices may seem like common sense approaches, but too often healthcare providers neglect the basics because of time constraints or other pressures. And the common sense approach doesn’t always result in higher health literacy or patient engagement. That’s where one other suggestion by Dr. Abdelaal comes in — personalizing care to motivate greater care plan adherence among patients, a task that can be easily accomplished through psychographic segmentation.

Psychographic Segmentation Provides Actionable Insights

The c2b psychographic segmentation model breaks down patients into five distinct groups:

  • Task-oriented Self Achievers who will willingly work towards goals.
  • Balance Seekers who look for a variety of resources to inform their health decisions.
  • Self-reliant Willful Endurers who call on healthcare professionals as a last resort.
  • Priority Jugglers who are proactive about the health of family members but less so with regards to their own health.
  • Well-meaning Direction Takers who go to the doctor at the first sign of a problem, but often struggle to comply with recommended care plans.

Each psychographic segment is motivated by different messages and communication preferences.  Personalizing patient engagement with unique, segment-specific insights is key to patient activation.  Hospitals and other healthcare providers can develop health literacy tools that better address individual needs in terms of what, where, and how information is delivered and help patients to understand and follow the health advice they receive.

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


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