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Unconscious behaviour has role in healthcare

The unconscious behaviour and associations of individuals remains an untapped influence within healthcare professional's choice of treatment and patient adherence

An individual's attitude and unconscious behaviour is an increasingly important influence on the decisions they make, according to new research.

The findings were presented at a presentation held by Hall & Partners and TBWA\Paling Walters, which included speakers such as Dr Nick Southgate, a philosopher with expertise in irrational and unconscious behaviour.

He said: "People don't do something because they don't know about it. The idea that if you just tell them they do is just staggeringly naive. And understanding why that is the case is really important because we tend to assume that we just need to tell them again, they're too stupid. But there are really good reasons why people don't respond."

Within healthcare, these hidden influences can be especially important in both the treatment decision process of a healthcare professional, and the adherence of patients taken medicines.

Regarding adherence, Southgate said: "A lot of medical treatments, there's a human level. The reason people don't get cured is they don't do what they are meant to do. If you can make that easier, then you've got more chance of a treatment working."

For Southgate, this included practical changes in the way treatments were presented, such as changing ensuring IV tubes have both square and round ends to make they are inserted the correct way round, and making packaging for painkillers strong enough so it didn't break apart in someone's bag.

The unconscious decision-making process of physicians was also discussed by Southgate.

He said: "In the way physicians prescribe, they make deviations from what might be the best results. People aren't being stupid, they have a reason for doing it."

At the heart of this form of behaviour was choice, with Southgate stating "people like to avoid the decision."

This was backed up by a presentation from Dan Ariely, reference by Southgate which discussed research that gave doctors a hypothetical case study. A doctor had to decide what to do with a patient who was scheduled to undergo a hip replacement but hadn't yet tried one medicine, with most doctors deciding to pull the patient from the operation and put them on the untried medicine.

However, when given the option of two more medicines to try instead of surgery, most doctors opted to let the schedule hip replacement go ahead, rather than deal with an extra choice.

Dr Soumya Roy of Hall & Partners, who was one of the lead researchers into the influence of irrational behaviour, said that the Engager research model was developed to quantify the impact of emotions and social factors, and create a model of how these influences work together.

"This knowledge can help pharmaceutical companies understand what the unmet needs are. Taking hypertension for example, most products are similarly clinically effective, so you have companies focusing on other areas like their website and introducing nutritionists and creating a hypertension 'kit' that they can give to patients. We need to go beyond a pill and provide a solution for patients."

The louder patient voice was helping pharma companies take this path, according to Roy. With unprecedented access to information, patients are challenging physicians, creating the need for more information and whole solutions.

Dick Dunford, executive creative director at TBWA\PW, said: "We know that the media landscape and the sales rep model is changing, and we're formalising and developing different ways and activities to develop a relationship and engagement with our target. "

3rd November 2011

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