Behavior Change Isn’t Everything, It’s the Only Thing

A Q&A with Philip Graves, Consumer Behavior Expert and Best-Selling Author

At Next IT Healthcare, we believe that patients should be in the driver’s seat. Until the patient is in charge of his or her own care, it will be impossible to make meaningful progress on some of the biggest issues facing our healthcare system. “Patient-centric care” is a big buzzword right now, and that gives me hope. But even if we know in theory that the patient belongs at the center of our healthcare system, we still have a long road ahead of us to make that a reality.

That’s why we’re so excited to be hosting the second annual Next Edge Health Experience Summit where we will explore the patient journey — the path healthcare professionals have to pave to fully empower the patient — and how we get there.

Leading up to the Summit, I’m interviewing some of the leaders and visionaries on our agenda whose ideas are impacting the healthcare world in an important way. These people are designing and building the future of the patient journey, today.

I’m pleased to host my first interview this year with Philip Graves, who spoke at our conference last year, and will be returning to share his wisdom with us again this year. Philip Graves is a consumer behavior expert and consultant, and author of best-selling book Consumer.ology, which draws on research from psychology and neuroscience to show why most market research can’t work and what companies should be doing instead.

Philip is one of our featured speakers at this year’s Next Edge Summit coming to Boston on October 17th and 18th. He will participate in a panel discussion on patient behavior change, the theories and strategies that work (or don’t!), and how today’s technology solutions make it easier to stimulate behavior change when it’s needed most — away from the doctor’s office.

How can healthcare providers effectively leverage technology to spark patient change?

First and foremost, healthcare providers need to find a way to have patients adopt technology as part of their treatment — this might mean prescribing it, but other routes exist — and work on making that technology a psychologically rewarding part of the patient’s life. Without this, any technology is, in practical terms, useless. Just as some patients stop taking their medication when a physician wants them to continue with it, healthcare providers need to anticipate non-compliance with technology and leverage psychology to create a platform that delivers short term benefit to the patient.

How can we ethically and effectively employ modern behavior change tactics to motivate patients to adjust deeply rooted bad habits and improve their own care?

I have to switch this question around and ask, “How can we not use modern behaviour change tactics to change behaviour?” The fact is that habits exist as unconscious programs in people’s minds, conditioned responses that drive their behaviour despite their positive intentions and motivations.

Health care needs to focus on outcomes — making people healthier. Inevitably, this leads to a need for paternalism. This paternalism exists in healthcare already: whether it’s the choice of treatment a doctor “recommends” that is almost always followed by the patient, the financial paternalism that means one course of inferior treatment is selected over another or even the specialism bias that means treatment is, at least to some degree, a consequence of who the patient sees about a condition. As long as healthcare providers focus exclusively on the conscious mind they are targeting the part of the patient’s brain that is of least relevance to the outcomes they are pursuing.

What is the biggest obstacle to obtaining true patient-centered care in your opinion?

The biggest obstacle is probably the patient! Or more specifically, the patient’s conscious mind. There is a fundamental conflict between what patients want — which is to get better — and what they do — which is (often) to indulge in behaviours that reduce their likelihood of getting well. Targeting the unconscious mind to bring about better health outcomes isn’t diminishing the patient’s liberty, it’s taking them at their word, but giving them tools that they didn’t realise they needed to get well.

If you could give one piece of advice about how the healthcare industry can improve the patient journey, what would it be?

They need to understand the patient journey better than the patient himself. That doesn’t mean asking patients more questions in surveys, it means studying behaviour and outcomes.

Technology can play a pivotal role here; if a healthcare player can build the platform that puts them closer to the patient’s life — a healthcare equivalent of Google — they can harvest the understanding about what patients do and then experiment with actions that make the patient journey better. However, I can’t stress enough that patients aren’t going to give the industry the answer.

Paint a picture of our ideal healthcare system in 5 years?

A patient is diagnosed by a panel of specialists, working co-operatively (digitally). The treatment he receives is tailored to him to a far greater degree, because the data matching diseases to patient typographies has been collected and analysed. Alongside any surgical or pharmaceutical treatment the patient is prescribed a healthcare app, which becomes part of his life: he enjoys working with the app because it quickly tunes itself to his intrinsic motivations and makes him feel good about using it. The patient’s doctor remotely tracks the patient’s progress and, where necessary, intervenes with a review or change of treatment. Healthcare costs start to fall.

About Philip Graves

Philip Graves is a consumer behavior expert who has been a pioneer in the alignment of commercial market research practice with the insights gained from behavioral psychology and behavioral economics.His understanding of the limitations of traditional market research techniques and the new solutions that will yield accurate data resulted in his 2010 book, Consumer.ology, being named one of Amazon’s top ten best business books of the year.

Philip’s consumer psychology expertise has led to him working in a diverse range of industries including financial services, health, FMCG, media and technology with companies including Innocent, Lloyds Banking Group, Boehringer Ingelheim, John Lewis, Webtrends, Oracle, Adobe and Barclays. In addition to his consultancy work, Philip is a regular contributor to the media, speaks at events around the world and is a columnist for The Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Interesting in contributing to the future of the patient journey?

Join Philip Graves, and many and other leaders at the Next Edge Health Experience Summit this fall in Boston to discuss real world solutions and learn ways to create engaging, inclusive and seamless experiences for patients everywhere.

Reserve your seat today at Join the conversation by following @NextEdgeSummit and using the hashtag #HXsummit.