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What Truly Drives the Patient? Behavioral Economics May Hold the Key

by Jeanette Hodgson | Dec 1, 2017

Healthcare is changing at a rapid pace, and for us to get closer to what really drives behavior and decision making, we need to think more laterally and extend our focus beyond the individual in isolation.

The field of Behavioral Economics has popularized the idea that behavior is not the result of careful deliberation and perfect logic, but instead often driven by intuition, emotion and a myriad of other subconscious factors. It's been clearly demonstrated that we, as social beings, are highly influenced by those around us and our physical environment; and we, as researchers, haven't paid adequate attention to these elements.

The multi-faceted influences on behavior

One of the core tenets of Behavioral Economics is that behavior is context dependent and is also influenced by how we perceive ourselves and others in that context and the physical limitations imposed by it. Understanding behavior means understanding all the factors that influence it.

Our research philosophy highlights the need to address behavior from the perspective of not only the individual, but also from a socio-cultural perspective and environmental context. Kantar Health recently conducted a landmark study about the "Patient Ecosystem" that provides new levels of depth and insight about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) through a holistic understanding of the multi-faceted influences on IBS patient behavior. The research explored:

  • Who I am – We are heavily influenced by our own personal attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and emotions – rational or irrational, conscious or sub-conscious. States of high emotion are often referred to as "hot" states. More rational, calmer states can be referred to as "cold" states. A hot-cold empathy gap occurs when people underestimate the influence of visceral states on their behavior, e.g. being angry, in pain or embarrassed. In our research, we found that by layering insights from multiple sources and incorporating a variety of lateral questioning approaches we can mitigate the effects of a one-sided perspective of "reality".
  • Where I Belong – Our sense of belonging and alignment to a certain group of people or values, or lack of alignment with those we reject, has a considerable influence on how we behave. In our IBS study, despite the social, emotional, practical and economic impact of IBS being very clear, the cultural narrative minimizes the seriousness of the condition, thereby exacerbating a negative spiral for sufferers.
  • Where I am – Our physical context impacts our behavior and the way we relate to our illness will differ according to the context in which we find ourselves. In our research, we saw and heard the varying impact that IBS has, depending on the role the person is playing in any given context. Similarly, the "personality" of healthcare professionals and the side of themselves they bring to a consultation will be determined by the interaction they have in the moment, and will differ from patient to patient depending on the content, context and nature of the dialogue.

Levers for Change

Our behavior is impacted by where decisions are made, what resources are available, how easy behavior is as a result, and how we feel in each context. In our research design, we need to consider the broader environment in which decisions are made and where behavior takes place. All too often we overlook the importance of context in our research – either from a prescribing perspective or from the point of view of living with illness.

As researchers, we gain maximum benefit by embracing Behavioral Economic theories and explanations of seemingly irrational behaviors and layering insights from a variety of perspectives. This allows us to form a deeper understanding of the drivers of behavior and identify the levers for change. In our multi-faceted approach, we uncovered rich insights in our IBS research that will drive business strategies and interventions to break the negative cycle of experience.

I encourage you to check out Kantar Health's white paper on behavioral economics.

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