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Understanding The Healthcare Purchase Decision

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

hand flipping a coinThe emergence of the wave of “consumerism” in healthcare delivery is, in some respects, not entirely new. Consumers have been making purchase decisions about products and services for…well, forever. What’s new is that patients are better informed and are more actively evaluating their purchase options in healthcare as they typically apply in retail or other service situations.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the traditional healthcare decision process was largely physician-centered. A patient would present certain complaints, symptoms and clinical particulars, and the doctor would decide upon a diagnostic and treatment regimen.

A patient-centered environment—be it a medical practice or hospital setting—increasingly includes more hard-stop decision points for the healthcare consumer. This purchase process includes selecting an insurance plan, evaluating and picking a provider (often more than one), understanding the diagnosis and, to a greater or lesser degree, accepting and complying with the course of treatment and/or medication.

What’s more, the entire process and experience will be evaluated and graded in terms of clinical outcome, and patient satisfaction.

Consequently, the patient’s “healthcare purchase decision” is more complex than “going to the doctor” and accepting the doctor’s determination. Instead, healthcare delivery is a sequence of major and minor decision moments, and with each, the provider and the entire team must win agreement from the “buyer.”

Why people buy (or don’t buy)

The essence of marketing and sales begins with an understanding of why people buy. And in healthcare (and virtually everything), the number one motivator of human behavior is self-interest. A trip to the doctor’s office connects the small gap between the self-interest of “being sick,” and the self-interest of feeling good.

We discussed this concept in our previous article, The One and Only Reason People Buy Healthcare, and the fundamental idea—that people shop for greater well being for themselves—is the top line. But it’s useful for physicians, staff and caregivers to drill a little deeper and translate this into a practical list of everyday needs and wants.

It’s an endless list…with as many reasons as there are human needs and emotions. The reasons that people buy can apply to major or minor decision points, appropriate to elective care recommendations or critical/clinical care directives, and to patient satisfaction in general.

Our point is that having and considering the "how-and-why" that people make healthcare decisions provides each member of the provider team a degree of insight to meeting the patient’s expectations. Depending on the particular situation, marketing thought leaders have identified some of the common and essential purchase decision motivators. None of these lists are all-inclusive, including our Top 20 (in random order):

  • avoid criticism
  • avoid/eliminate pain
  • be attractive
  • emulate others
  • enrich/enjoy life
  • express love, appreciation
  • feel connected
  • feel significant
  • for security; self and family
  • for style, fashion, trends
  • gain confidence
  • greater comfort
  • keep up with others
  • look younger/youthful
  • make money
  • peace of mind
  • reduce effort, work
  • save money
  • save time
  • win acceptance, approval, praise

“Basically, people want to save time and money, make life easier, be respected and happy, make money, and eliminate pain in their lives,” according to guerrilla marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson.

In our experience, the simplest expression—and the shortest list—is that the patient is buying happiness. Providers, hospitals and staff members who are aware of this, and can discover how the patient defines the needs and wants of their happiness, will win agreement and satisfaction in throughout the healthcare purchase process. How many things can you add to this list?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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