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What does human behavior teach us about frictionless healthcare?

Incorporating behavior science enables you to better understand your consumers’ unique needs — and the personalized consumer engagements best suited to solve them. With a little less friction and a bit more fuel, you empower your end-users to make positive behavior changes and take control of their own health.

Want more patients to get a flu shot? Progress starts with understanding how people behave.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found they could boost flu vaccine rates by 11% after appealing to people’s sense of ownership. The concept — known as the endowment effect — causes individuals to place greater value on objects they own. A simple text message saying a vaccine is “reserved for you” is often enough to trigger this innate response in people, pushing them toward the desired outcome.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Behavioral science techniques like this have a powerful impact when applied to consumer engagement. Whether your goal is boosting flu vaccination rates or encouraging other important healthcare decisions, leveraging behavioral science principles reduces friction, increases personalization and, ultimately, drives necessary behavioral change.

With the average person making 35,000 decisions every day, health plans face an uphill battle when they lack an understanding of how people think about and make choices — and therefore cannot adapt their business models accordingly. How much do you know about your consumers? And how much more do you have to learn?

How friction and fuel drive behavior change

Much of human behavior is explained by two simple forces: friction and fuel. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely uses the metaphor of a rocket ship — to drive behavior change, you must increase fuel and decrease friction.

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In a healthcare setting, friction is any barrier to positive health behavior. That could be a 30-minute wait time on a call or a complicated, convoluted online patient portal. When there are too many steps, complexities or uncertainties sprinkled into the end-user experience, patients are easily dissuaded from scheduling that colonoscopy or getting their prescription refilled on time.

Unfortunately, points of friction are all too common in healthcare systems: 71 percent of consumers face major frustrations such as long wait times, confusing processes and issues scheduling appointments. And that friction is not just bad for patient outcomes, it’s harmful to a healthcare company’s bottom line as well. Eight of out 10 consumers say they would switch providers based on such convenience factors, making it difficult for providers to secure long-term loyalty among patients without first addressing process barriers.

Fuel, on the other hand, is any factor that motivates people to select positive health behaviors. That could involve offering incentives around Covid-19 vaccines to activate the concept of reciprocity or promoting member testimonies about smoking cessation, which plays into the social proof concept that people will copy others’ actions to reflect the “correct” behavior in a given situation.

When you have a better understanding of what customers consider friction and fuel, it’s easier to offer end-users experiences they value and come back for.

Incorporating behavioral science principles at your business

To promote health behavior change at your company, consider the following steps to engineer digital experiences that turn friction into fuel.

  1. Define your problem. Whether it’s improving prescription refill rates or minimizing appointment no-shows, friction reduction starts with identifying the problems you need to solve and the outcomes you hope to achieve. Design solutions around those reference points and always measure back against them. For example, if your goal is to increase mammography appointments, AI-enabled outreach and engagement can share short video clips, graphics and other tailored educational materials about how the procedure works or why routine check-ups are important as someone ages. Knowing your specific hurdles upfront enables creative, intentional and effective solutions.
  2. Determine barriers vs. benefits. Next comes a barrier-benefit analysis, which requires a deep dive into all the friction points holding your end-users back from healthy decisions. Those barriers could involve processes (long wait times), structures (lack of nearby providers), social factors (economic instability) or even attitudes (distrust of medical providers). For example, a patient may not have access to a car or other forms of transit. Messaging platforms embedded with conversational AI could turn a routine appointment reminder into a back-and-forth conversation that uncovers this barrier. A provider could then switch to a virtual visit or arrange other transportation options. Friction can take any number of forms — determining where friction lies and how it impacts your consumers allows you to proactively alleviate barriers and boost benefits. You may be surprised by what’s considered a source of friction among your end-users, so remain open-minded during this discovery process.
  3. Find ways to reduce complexity. Healthcare processes are often overly complex. Process overload is not only an administrative headache, it also clogs your consumer experience. Simplify processes as much as possible by identifying and eliminating unnecessary steps and actions. Even the ever-so-plagued help desk can be improved. Rather than switching between texting, a website and a call line, patients should be able to access all the information they need about insurance coverage, procedure costs and prescription orders through one seamless omnichannel experience.
  4. Keep engagement consumer-centric. Three-quarters of consumers wish their healthcare experiences were more personalized and nearly two-thirds of consumers say they would access care more often if that was the case. As you design your digital engagement strategy, keep your consumers front and center in every decision. This could be as simple as providing a timer or a colorful progress bar during a questionnaire to let people know how far along they are in a process. Consumer-centric design goes a long way in making people more comfortable and engaged in your organization, and more likely to participate in behaviors that achieve your desired outcomes.

Although points of friction are inevitable, growing your awareness of them opens the door to intelligence-driven technologies that reduce headaches for end-users. With smart consumer engagement, your organization can simplify complexities system-wide and solve challenges on the individual level.

Incorporating behavior science enables you to better understand your consumers’ unique needs — and the personalized consumer engagements best suited to solve them. With a little less friction and a bit more fuel, you empower your end-users to make positive behavior changes and take control of their own health.

Photo: Ace2020, Getty Images

As Chief Executive Officer of mPulse Mobile, Chris Nicholson brings over 20 years of experience in healthcare and digital technology leadership in fortune 100 companies and dynamic startups. Prior to mPulse Mobile, Chris spent over a decade in strategic leadership roles at Humana, including VP and COO of Wellness and led Humana’s Strategic consultancy division. At mPulse Mobile, Chris brings a passion for developing solutions that improve health outcomes while transforming member experience. He holds a B.A. in Marketing from the University of Kentucky and an MBA from University of Louisville. He also completed the Harvard Executive Development Program for Healthcare Leaders.