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The Paradox of Choice & Digital Marketing: 3 Vital Takeaways for Healthcare

By Kathy, Senior Marketing Strategist

Jars of jam and jellyThere are more choices in healthcare than ever before. Since the introduction of Obamacare, a lot more people have access to a wider range of insurance options.

From there, there are even more decisions for a patient to make: urgent care or primary care? Direct primary care or concierge medicine? Generic or prescription medicine?

Is this a good thing? In many ways, of course it is. There’s no one-size-fits-all care prescription for any one patient. However, when the average person is left alone to handle these decisions, it can cause a form of decision paralysis.

See also: 3 Simple Ways to Fail at Digital Marketing in Healthcare

The Paradox of Choice in Marketing

The idea of choice overload and the anxiety and paralysis it can produce has sparked conversation since the turn of the century—most notably in Barry Schwartz’s 2004 book The Paradox of Choice.

He cites a study by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper that presented participants with varying quantities of gourmet jam in a supermarket setting (with a coupon offer). Participants presented with 24 varieties of jam were far less likely to ultimately purchase a jar than those presented with only 6 options.

Overwhelmed with their options and faced with a time-consuming decision, many people were unable or unwilling to make a choice and simply moved on.

But what does this paradox of choice have to do with your practice, your hospital, or your patients? More than you think.

Online information overload

As we all know, more and more patients are coming into their doctors’ offices with a self diagnosis or treatment plan. In some cases, it’s based on experience or family history. But more often than not, the internet is in play—for better or for worse.

There is certainly some useful health information online, but it’s a lot to sort through—especially for a patient anxious about their health concerns. But much worse is the misinformation patients receive.

All of this is enough to cause information paralysis—to stop patients from making the right choices for their health because they simply do not know what to do. They may put off seeing a doctor out of fear, or struggle to decide which doctor can help them through a serious condition (even before receiving a diagnosis).

New models and standards of care

It can be difficult to decide which treatment route to go down when the world of healthcare is difficult to navigate in the first place.

Take primary care for example. The differences between family medicine and internal medicine could be difficult enough to for a healthcare newcomer to understand. But then there are integrative medicine specialists. There are different models of care, too: direct primary care, concierge medicine, retail healthcare options. It can be a lot for a patient to sort through.

If a patient is also balancing conditions that require specialists' care, all of which may have their own approach to treatment, how can a patient determine what's right?

So what should healthcare take away from the paradox of choice?

Patients are walking into your office uncertain that they’ve made the right choice. They’re finding information on your website that may conflict with information they’ve seen elsewhere. And they’re struggling to understand the things you deal with every single day.

A large part of what you can do for your patients is simply understand the struggles they face when making choices for their own health. And this can guide your approach to patient care as well as the marketing that brings patients through your doors.

Examine the paradox of choice in your own marketing

Take a look at your website as well as your traditional marketing materials. Are there large blocks of text filled with medical terminology? Do you describe the gory details of several serious conditions?

This is especially confusing for a patient who has not yet received a diagnosis. And regardless, you might be describing complex procedures, or even small procedures a patient did not yet realize she needed. And this can be terrifying to someone without healthcare expertise.

You probably already know that a 20-page brochure detailing all the possible symptoms and diseases a person may have can be confusing and overwhelming. A website with hundreds of pages is difficult to navigate. But even just a few pages of clinical, sometimes scary information may make a patient reconsider.

What patients truly want to know from your marketing materials is the level of care you can provide. Of course, your website should include the basics of your services. For serious information, they turn to you—and the best place for this is in your office.

Related: 10 Healthcare Website Design Tips that Deliver Patients

Use targeted advertising across digital and traditional media

In recent years, I’ve sent out mailers advertising our medical marketing seminar to doctor’s offices and hospitals across the country. This year, I tried a different approach. I included a brochure about our agency marketing partnership as well.

It was a risk, but one I felt I needed to take. Sometimes, it’s okay to draw attention to a list of services you provide in your advertising. However, the details of these services may be better left for in-person conversation.

And when it comes to your website, remember that patients on your site might only be in the market for one particular product or service.

That’s why we recommend both targeted mailers along with highly targeted digital landing pages. A digital ad may link to a landing page that points patients only to the service they were looking for, with no additional distractions. With no information overload interfering, a patient may be more likely to call your team for information (rather than get caught up in all the conflicting information online). 

Help patients deal with the stress of information overload

Once they're in your office, it's a lot easier to help your patients to deal with the stress of information overload. Encourage regular patients or those looking for a consultation to bring in information they’ve found online—so you can discuss it together.

Whether they mention it or not, your patients may be very concerned about their symptoms or conditions. Check in on this, and open up the dialogue so you can help them understand options and their recommended paths for treatment.

What's most important is that you don’t become another source of information overload. Explain things in terms patients can understand, avoiding tough medical jargon. Give patients all the information they need, but don't provide extra information that may lead to another panicked online search. Quality information from an expert source (you or your team) can take away the paradox of choice and free patients up to make informed decisions.

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