Want Fries With That?

There was an absolutely fascinating variation on relationship marketing written up in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Health Blog. The post, which was written by Shirley S. Wang, described a commentary in JAMA that suggested making the healthier choice the default option for patients in some situations rather than one choice among many. For example, automatically schedule a follow-up appointment or a colonoscopy rather than reminding the patient to do it. If they want to, they can change or reschedule it, but if they do nothing, the healthier option happens.

On one level, this is the most obvious thing in the world. On another, though, it’s a wonderful example of the most basic principle of relationship marketing — taking into account how the actual patient with the actual condition actually behaves, and then accomodating that, rather than vice-versa.

IFrench_friesf you’re designing a car, you build in cupholders, because people drink coffee while they drive. If  you’re developing a voice-activated telephone response system, you base the options on what people tend to ask. If you’re Princess Diana, and you’re getting married to the Prince of Wales, and you have a thirty-foot train behind your wedding gown, you have a couple of bridesmaids on hand to help you with it. All of these are Blinding Flashes of the Obvious.

And in healthcare, you pay attention to how patients — your customers — behave, and you use that information. Getting patients to stay on their medication regimen takes a lot more than having some doctor tell them to. Patients are human, and therefore influenced by all kinds of factors, many of which are irrational. This is what we do for a living here at TrueHealth. We build programs around what patients actually do, not what they should do. It appears that behavioral economics supports this.

One legendary example is the now-ubiquitous question asked at thousands of fast-food counters every day: "Would you like fries with that?" Because people naturally, automatically, unthinkingly tend to respond with a "Yes" or "Sure", the simple act of asking that question has resulted in billions of dollars in extra revenue for McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King et. al. Whoever thought of that should have been given an island in the Carribean.

Another one, as noted by the JAMA commentators, is people’s inherent bias towards inaction. If the options are "do nothing" vs. "do something" the former has a distinct edge. If you use this fact, and structure things so that "do nothing" results in a healthier outcome, everyone wins.

Some Things You Just Can’t Outsource

"“Who hasn’t dreamt of having someone to do all that stuff?” said Kim
Levy, the Morristown, N.J., woman who used Brickwork to scour the
current literature and come up with a report on health care dynamics.
Ms. Levy is the vice president for strategic planning at Micromass
Communications, a 120-person company based in North Carolina that helps
medical businesses with marketing."

-Personal Assistants On Call, Just Not In The Next Office
The New York Times
November 14, 2007

Well, here at Ryan, we did our own study of health care dynamics, too. With all due respect to our esteemed competitor, we just did it a little differently.

In our opinion, you pick your outsourcing partners very carefully, and you don’t pay them $15 an hour. We’re not looking for an overview or a summary of what’s already out there. We wanted to really dig, to get as primary as possible, and to discover something new. We did.

So we didn’t outsource it to India. We outsourced it to ICom, who has been doing healthcare research for twenty years. They surveyed over sixty thousand patients, in a dozen disease categories. We developed with survey with a multidisciplinary team that included a pharmacoepidemiologist, two behavioral psychologists, a research analyst and a marketing team. We then had the resulitng data analyzed by the Ryan TrueHealth Consumer Insights Group.

That’s how we do a study here. And the results are fascinating — really critical information for anyone marketing pharmaceuticals, particularly to patients with chronic illnesses.

If you’d like to see a copy, email me. And yes, I’ll respond to your email personally. No outsourcing to to New Delhi.