As Featured on Huffington Post


How small tweaks can make a big difference in healthcare

If you work in the healthcare industry, you must sometimes shake your head. Why is it so hard to get people to do the right thing? Why don’t we all just make better choices? Rest assured, it’s not stubbornness or an indifference to health. It’s that, as humans, we all have occasionally irrational ways of making decisions. Luckily, emerging science in psychology and Behavioral Science have shown that there’s a method to our madness. If you can tap into the predictable patterns behind our natural biases, you can help people make better choices by removing friction in the decision-making process.

At Next Step, we look to the latest research in Behavioral Science to create marketing campaigns that help companies connect with and motivate their users. It turns out you can tap into this psychology to heal your healthcare campaign as well.

One of our senior advisors, Eric Page, is all too familiar with swimming against the tide of human biases. Page has built and sold multiple healthcare businesses, including a company that achieved a high rate of compliance among its sleep apnea patients. He is also CEO of a company that uses a combination of analytics and Behavioral Science to help Fortune 500 customers keep their high-risk, complex-needs employees healthy and out of the hospital.

In this article, you’ll learn which techniques were most successful in increasing signup and patient compliance. More importantly, you’ll find ways to apply them to your own efforts.

  1. Rethink When You Call Referrals

  2. Getting people to schedule a consultation is critical to improving their health. But what if they don’t return your calls? Something as simple as shifting who you call first can make a huge difference. One of Page’s companies, REM Medical, used to follow a first-in, first-out (FIFO) method for dealing with referrals. By switching it to a last-in, first-out (LIFO) strategy, they saw an 18 percent increase in patients showing up to the first consultation. They also decreased the total call volume by a third.

    When you get a referral, the sooner you act, the better. Ideally, you’d call everyone back immediately. But the reality is, you have a limited staff and sometimes referrals pile up. If you have 100 calls to return, start with ones who called most recently and work your way back. The first 1-3 days are critical, but there’s not as much of a decay rate beyond 106 hours.

  3. Create Mutual Commitments

  4. So you’ve got them in the office. They’re nodding their heads at everything you say. But what happens when they leave? How can you keep them in line even when you’re not around? For people dealing with sleep apnea, compliance is a huge hurdle. The care plan is both uncomfortable and indefinite. Rethinking your care pathway can help overcome psychological hurdles.

    REM Medical shifted its timing and saw a 25 percent increase in follow-through. The sleep mask was just as uncomfortable as before, but by introducing the respiratory therapist to the patient when they first presented with the problem (as opposed to the traditional method of doing it post-diagnosis), doctors were able to create mutual commitments. If you can create an exchange of commitments at the very beginning, you’re creating a powerful psychological incentive to follow through.

    Instead of just mailing the device with the hopes that the patient will call the therapist for a fitting, the new method had doctors create upfront commitments between the patient and the therapist.

  5. Time Your Request

  6. Acknowledge their effort and get them activated by saying something like: “You’re here because you think this problem is serious and you want to solve it. We promise to get you the best device and to make sure it fits you well and is as comfortable as can be. In exchange, will you commit to trying this out for seven days?”

    Repeating this exchange again once the patient met with the therapist for the fitting reinforced the contract. You can improve the odds of compliance by negotiation during those times when your patient or customer is most concerned about the issue. You’ll find that what falls on deaf ears when they’re preoccupied will resonate when they’re problem-solving.

  7. Track the Language That's Not Working 

  8. If a patient blatantly ignores your request, you’d better know why. One clinic was able to significantly increase its rate for mammograms. What was their secret weapon? Not the follow-up phone calls, emails or letters. What worked was giving the primary care doctors instantaneous feedback. Every time a female patient left the doctor’s office, she had to make eye contact with an informed checkout person who asked: “You’re due in six months. When will you come back for your mammogram?” If she balked, a Post-It note immediately went back to the doctor, telling them: “Your speech didn’t work. She’s not listening to you.”

    When you get that kind of real-time feedback, it’s easier to connect the dots and shift your language. The doctors found that instead of saying how important exams are, they got better results by asking: “When you leave, will you schedule an exam? If no, why not?” It’s far better for the patient to decline in front of you when you can still address and alleviate her concerns.

  9. Always Act When the User is Most Activated

  10. Most people have every intention of doing the right thing. But if you don’t catch them when they’re “activated,” these good intentions will quickly fall to the wayside. Don’t be afraid to iterate your language or your approach. You need to see what works with your specific population. Take these timing tweaks into consideration and you can breathe some life back into your healthcare campaign.

  • Shirin Oreizy
    Shirin Oreizy
  • JoAnne Tobias
    JoAnne Tobias

Curious how Behavioral Science can guide your users?Contact us today.

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