jewish community studies

If You Ask, We Answer: Part 2 – Healthcare

Continuing our series about the common questions that our clients ask us:  our first post focused on the higher education sector.  We now turn our focus to healthcare.

When my kids ask me what I do all day, I respond with, “We answer questions.”  I give pretty much the same response to adults, because while it sounds simple, it captures the essence of my work.  That’s why The Melior Group is in business.

So when it comes to our healthcare provider clients like hospitals and health systems, what kinds of questions is Melior answering, and how are they using the information?

If we build it, will they come?

Investment in facilities, programs and services is costly, and our healthcare clients need data about consumers to support their decisions.  Hospital planning departments and their consultants provide the market information (how many people live in the area, insurance status, etc.); Melior’s work focuses on gathering insights into consumer attitudes and behavior. We ask questions of the market such as:

  • Is there a need in your community for said initiatives?
  • When making decisions for this type of program/service, what are your criteria for selection?
  • If the program/service offers these menu items, how likely would you be to consider using it?
  • What would make you more likely to use it?

With the answers given, Melior is able to guide clients to make “go/no go” decisions, and, if the decision is “go”, to develop a product that is responsive to consumers’ needs and preferences.

Is our consumer-directed marketing and outreach accomplishing what we want it to accomplish, and if not, what can we do to make it better?

We often work with clients when they are developing their consumer marketing strategy.  They may need to evaluate their current brand status, as well as elicit input for future marketing campaigns.  We ask questions of consumers such as:

  • What is important to you when you are making decisions about healthcare?
  • What are your impressions of the different providers in the market?
  • How do you gather information about healthcare providers?
  • What is your reaction to current advertising and other messaging from healthcare providers?

The answers help our clients to develop marketing communications which are believable, distinctive and have the potential to resonate with desired audience segments.

How can we better serve our surrounding community? 

This is an important question for our nonprofit healthcare clients, which are usually mission-driven.  They take their missions seriously, and want to hear, from the audiences they are committed to serving, how they are doing.  As such, we ask questions of those audiences such as:

  • Do you perceive this provider as the “go to” resource for your family’s health needs?
  • Does this provider treat all patients with the compassion and respect that they deserve?
  • Is this provider doing all that it can to improve the overall health of the community?

Though sometimes the findings can surprise, and even hurt, they can provide a starting point for improvement and rededication to meeting mission goals.

In addition to the questions we ask, our rigorous approach to figuring out who we need to reach in order to gather the information we need, and determining the best methodology for gathering information, is central to our work.

Our research can help healthcare providers explore all of these issues and more.  Give us a call or shoot us an email and let us know how we can help.

For more information please contact Elizabeth Cohen at [email protected]/215-545-0054 ext. 103


Impact of EMR on Patient Experience: Qualitative Review and Impressions

There is general agreement in the healthcare field that Electronic Medical Records (EMR) will eventually enhance quality of care, achieve cost savings, and improve the patient experience.  But, so far as consumers are concerned, the general feeling is… “are we there yet?”  Have the benefits of EMR trickled down to the point where patients understand what all the fuss is about?

In my role as a qualitative researcher hired by hospitals, healthcare systems, and insurance providers for the past 20+ years, I have had a front row seat for discussions about healthcare.  While so much in the sector has changed, consumers’ expectations for how they will be treated, and their satisfactions and disappointments, have remained constant.

Undoubtedly, most consumers are aware of EMR adoption; haven’t we all had the experience within the last few years of being asked to be patient (no pun intended) while our providers transition?  Of filling out lengthy healthcare forms which will be attached to our medical records? Of periodically updating acknowledgement of HIPAA policies?  Many of us even use hospital portals to communicate with our physicians, make appointments, request prescription refills, and see test results.

So overall, what has been the impact of EMR on the patient experience?

In the positive column, many consumers are aware of, and have come to appreciate, the benefits of having a centralized healthcare record that all providers within a system can refer to.  It is efficient (fewer questions when seeing a new provider within the same system), and makes people feel safe (“they know my medical history”) and cared for.  Having experienced these benefits, patients are more likely to request and accept referrals to providers within the same system.  In the words of one focus group participant…

“No matter what location you go within (health system), they can see your records…and then I can go into the portal and see all of my records from every location (within the health system) that I have been to.”

Have any other benefits of EMR trickled down to patients?  In our experience, not so much.  In focus groups, interviews and surveys, consumers continue to tell us about the delays and glitches in healthcare communication and service that providers blame on their EMR conversion processes.  Additionally, lots of emergency rooms – even those connected to providers that consumers often use for their healthcare – still don’t have access to full patient records.  The need to gather health information in the ER from patients and families reduces efficiency and exacerbates stress –  definitely not consistent with a better healthcare experience.  And finally, we hear a lot of complaints from people who say, “my doctor spends most of the appointment on the computer, and doesn’t even look at me while talking.”

In sum, while EMR is no doubt here to stay, at this point in time, many of its advantages remain elusive to those who it is supposed to help the most: patients. Hopefully the next time I write about this topic, when consumers ask “are we there yet?”, the answer will be, “we’re getting closer.”

For more information please contact Elizabeth Cohen at [email protected]/215-545-0054 ext. 103

I Don’t Care What You Think Until I Think That You Care

“I don’t care what you think until I think that you care.”

I heard that quote and I can’t stop thinking about how perfectly this applies to health care, specifically to consumers’ thoughts and attitudes about the kind of health care they are seeking.

Over the years, The Melior Group has conducted thousands of focus groups with consumers about their decision-making and preferences for providers. The word “quality” gets used a lot. We hear some version of the statement “I want to go to a hospital/doctor/other provider that is known for delivering high quality care”  in every single focus group.

So what does “high quality healthcare” mean?

I’ve asked this question in more ways than I can count, searching, searching for clarity.

Because every time I would ask that question, I would get what I believed was a naïve answer – something like:  “A quality doctor is someone who listens to me,” or, “ I want to go someplace where I can really talk to my doctor.”

After hearing some version of this for the umpteenth time, I told myself that if I could only ask the question right, then I would get a “better” answer, like “quality healthcare means there are good outcomes”  or “quality means practicing evidence-based medicine.” 

I told myself that the consumers who were focused on doctors’ communication skills and “bedside manner” were missing the point:  to my mind, healthcare “quality” had nothing to do with interpersonal skills.

And then I heard that quote.

It was really an “ah ha” moment.  Of course!  As a patient, why would I value what a doctor was recommending to me – even if he/she was amazingly credentialed, the leading doctor in that field, educated at Harvard, yada yada – unless that doctor seemed to care enough about me to attempt to really get to the bottom of my particular problem, and my goals for treatment?

So what does caring in the medical setting mean? Does it mean…

Wearing a button that says “Ask me”?
Making small talk in the examining room?
Claiming, in advertising, that each patient is more than a number? 

I don’t think so.  Rather, I think that my focus group participants have got it right:  by listening — really listening,  restating the information to make clear that they have heard what their patient is saying, and asking the right questions — medical providers convey caring.  In so doing physicians are  better able to diagnose the real problem, and to suggest a treatment approach that a patient will be more likely to comply with.

Now that sounds like high quality healthcare.

Elizabeth Cohen is Vice President of The Melior Group, and our lead consultant in our work in the health care sector.

For more information please visit our Healthcare page or contact Elizabeth Cohen at [email protected] / 215-545-0054 x103.

Healthcare Providers Face New Brand And Spend Challenges As Some Medical Procedures Become Commoditized: PART 2

If a given service line and/or procedure generates high patient volume and is profitable, hospitals and healthcare systems can be sure that there will be stiff competition for those patients. So, how do providers attract their fair share of volume?

In the previous post, Melior identified three broad question areas that healthcare marketers should consider before finalizing a marketing plan. Successful hospital marketers know that marketing research can answer those questions. In this follow-up blog post, we recommend some approaches to consumer research that can provide guidance for development and execution of marketing strategy.

Focus groups

To really understand how patients make decisions and their impressions of and willingness to consider area hospitals/health systems, Melior continues to recommend focus groups with consumers as a first step. In this intimate forum, where participants can be screened to insure that all have had some experience with, for example, cardiac care, we can ask questions such as “which hospital in your area is best for a given procedure/service line,” and “where did you/your loved one actually go for this procedure.”

As it so happens, the answers to the above questions are often contradictory. One of our clients — a regional tertiary care provider that has invested heavily in its cardiac service line — learned through focus group research that despite many consumers’ recognition of its capabilities and reputation, other factors such as perceived better access, and their personal physicians’ recommendations, trumped these positive impressions and drove patients elsewhere for cardiac services. Rather than going to what they perceived was the “best” option, many consumers chose a provider that was “good enough” to meet the need…and more advantageous in other ways.

In a focus group, we can explore these contradictions in a free-ranging line of inquiry, and develop evidence-based hypotheses to explain what we’re hearing. In a typical telephone or online survey – with predominantly closed ended questions – we would just have to accept these contradictions and rely on conjecture to understand them. After a series of focus groups, our client decided to focus more of its localized messaging on ease of access to specific physicians.

Quantitative survey of catchment area consumers

Many of our clients do need quantitative data in order to understand the prevalence of what was heard in focus groups, and to satisfy internal audiences who control marketing dollars. Qualitative findings can be used as the basis for a quantitative survey of consumers, the purpose of which can be to measure and track the standard concerns – e.g., awareness, impressions, decision-making priorities and inputs, etc. – as well as to test the hypotheses that were developed in the qualitative phase. Some clients even try out positioning statements or other creative approaches in such a survey.

This quantitative data can provide the additional confidence needed to formulate positioning and messaging strategy for the service line. These findings also allow for development of market segments – based on demographic, experiential, attitudinal, and other data – which can help providers identify specific groups to target based on common characteristics.

To learn more, visit our previous postHealthcare Providers Face New Brand And Spend Challenges As Some Medical Procedures Become Commoditized, PART 1.

In our next healthcare post we’ll explore the role of physicians in consumer decision-making, and make the case for why physician relations are an integral component of consumer marketing strategy.

For inquires, please contact The Melior Group at (215) 545-0054 or by email [email protected]

The Healthcare X Factor: Easing Anxiety over Provider Choice & ACA

healthcare decisions and provider choice

By Elizabeth Cohen

In our marketing research for healthcare providers, I continue to be stymied by the same contradiction:  Why is there such a disconnect between healthcare preferences (e.g., which hospital would you prefer for a certain service line if needed), and actual healthcare usage (which hospital did you use when you or a loved one needed care)?

In our work for healthcare providers, we spend a lot of time trying to determine how consumers make decisions about their care for specialty healthcare services, so that our clients can plan marketing strategy and messaging appropriately.  We ask questions such as, “if you needed a referral for healthcare services, how important are the following characteristics in your selection of a provider?”  Additionally, we explore the kinds of information and resources that consumers say they would turn to when making healthcare decisions.

We get a lot of sensible information from these lines of inquiry, both in qualitative and quantitative forums.  Most consumers say that if they needed additional care for a specific condition they would conduct research using the internet, consulting sites such as or; and/or they’d ask their friends.  In  sum, they’d really take a considered approach to determine where to go.  They say that their doctor’s recommendation would be only one factor among many to consider.

However, when we change the question to “take me through your decision-making process the last time you needed specialty services,” the answers change dramatically.  Despite the ready availability of information online and from friends, the majority of consumers immediately say that they went where their doctor told them to go…even if they actually believed that someplace else provided better care for that need. 

What’s going on?  Why are intentions around healthcare decision-making so different from actual behavior?  I believe that part of the answer lies in behavioral science.

Healthcare, by its very nature, is a negative purchase.  Though it might help us to get and feel better, we wouldn’t need it if our health was fine in the first place.  (Contrast that, for example, with the purchase of a candy bar or a vacation, which are all about enhancing pleasure – icing on the cake.)

So…how do we feel in a doctor’s office?  Anxious.  We’re there because something is, or might be, wrong with us or a loved one.  A close doctor friend of mine always talks about “white coat syndrome,” which causes some patients to experience elevated respirations, blood pressure or heart rate simply because they are in a doctor’s office.

I believe that it is this very anxiety that can, to a certain extent, explain the contradiction between what consumers say they will do and what they actually do when faced with the need for specialty healthcare.  As demonstrated in a series of experiments by Francesca Gino of Harvard University, and Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania, “…by eroding self-confidence, anxiety motivates individuals to reduce uncertainty and both to seek and to rely on advice from others” (click here for the full PDF article).  In other words, when a doctor gives a referral, most patients and families are not in the best frame of mind to be able to say, “thanks for your opinion, but I need to go home and do my research to determine where is the best place to go.”

What does this mean for our healthcare clients?  First and foremost, it necessitates acknowledgement that the consumer behavior model for healthcare is quite different from “positive” purchases.  And, with the shaky launch of the Affordable Healthcare Act – complete with political drama and technological disappointments – consumers have even more reasons to feel anxious today than in the past.

For those larger healthcare systems with the full range of service lines, this anxiety and resultant willingness to rely on a doctor’s advice may, in fact, have positive implications for keeping consumers within the system.  However, for smaller community or specialty hospitals with weak (or nonexistent) ties to a healthcare system, the marketing priority remains referring physicians, whose recommendations to anxious patients and families will often be greeted with acceptance.

Please join the discussion in the comments section below!  Acknowledging that healthcare is often a negative purchase that can be fraught with anxiety, what does this mean for consumer marketing of healthcare services?