Obsessed with understanding what makes People tick

Image 43

5 Research Strategies for Getting Insights from Healthcare Consumers

If you’re looking to understand human behavior in the healthcare space, these are ways to see patients, consumers and users in a new light. 

As it is in many industries, the internet is disrupting the healthcare experience.

The digital health transformation has changed how consumers find and vet doctors, book appointments, share healthcare information and make decisions about medication—and that’s the tip of the iceberg.

Meeker’s Internet Trends Report highlights steadily increasing digitization throughout the healthcare ecosystem—much of it driven by consumers. 

According to the report, the internet is offering increasing access to medical data and decision-making tools. Patient engagement in making care decisions is associated with increased satisfaction and improved health outcomes.

Whether you’re striving to deliver better patient experiences or outcomes, selling health-adjacent technology, or providing over-the-counter or prescription pharmaceuticals (to encompass the wide range of products/services, we’ll use “offering” throughout), it’s crucial to deeply understand your target audience and how you can better serve them in the flows of their lives.

Organizations working in healthcare will succeed based largely on how well they understand the preferences of their patients and consumers—and then how well they build offerings that align with their needs and account for this space’s human factors.

Think of it as ensuring that you bring empathy to your digital health approach.

These strategies will help you gain more actionable insight into healthcare consumer behavior in the digital era.

Focus on the human behind the patient or consumer

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about the people using your offering as “consumers” or “patients.” But doing this removes some of the empathy that’s a hallmark of incisive contextual research.

When you consider these people as fully realized human beings outside of the scope of how they interact with your offering, you’re able to gain a more holistic understanding of their needs and better understand how to fulfill them.

By focusing on the nuances of their humanness, you’ll learn more during your research—and by focusing on patient or human centricity in your offering, you’ll deliver better products or services that lead to better care outcomes.

By focusing on the nuances of their humanness, you’ll learn more during your research—and by focusing on patient or human centricity in your offering, you’ll deliver better products or services that lead to better care outcomes.

Remember, you’re affecting a real person—their life, and often, their well-being—with your healthcare offering. Are you serving their needs as well as you can?

Even the language you use internally or in your research can change the paradigm. Emphasize that they’re not just consumers, they’re people.

Strive to see and understand your people where they are

Understanding your customers fully requires understanding how they live. This includes the settings in which they receive care, the places in which they actually interact with your offerings, the ways in which they live with a condition, and the many factors that inform their decision-making.

Make sure to consider a person’s relationship with their physician as well—from trust levels to visit frequency, this can have a major impact on their decision-making in terms of their health and habits. For some in the healthcare space, it may be worth studying physicians themselves, while others should make sure to ask questions of participants that establish a further understanding of the doctor/patient relationship.

Seeing your customers where they are is especially important for understanding patient experience and tapping into possible innovations in telemedicine and other evolving models of care delivery.

Scale how you see actual lived experiences through remote research

By now we’ve established how you can consider the people you want to study in ways that lead to better outcomes.

But how can you implement these ideas into your research design or tactics?

If the goal is to capture as much context from someone’s real life as possible, the traditional path may include on-site or in-home visits. Which makes sense—you can insert yourself as a researcher into the environment to see what’s happening, and capture information in the moment.

There are two fundamental challenges to that approach, though.

One is that it’s expensive; most research teams are working within often-tight budgets, and any attempt at breadth while also being there in-person can quickly become costly—especially if you need to study diverse locations or care situations.

The other challenge is that just by being there as a third party, you’ll inherently change how both provider and patient/consumer operates in that situation. There’s an artifice that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

A solution to these that aligns with digital trends in healthcare is to use a remote research platform that allows people to show you their experiences through their smartphones without another party present. These frequently are more candid windows into their real behavior—with the research able to happen within the flow of their experiences, and participants comfortable when interacting with their phones.

Hopelab is a health-focused social innovation lab that leverages this approach to great effect. Since their research explores mental health in teens and how technology impacts it, they’re savvy to design with digital-native respondents in mind. They leverage remote research for this demographic to get candid and honest inputs. These participants may be less comfortable sharing in conversation with another person than they are when talking into their smartphones during private moments.

Learn more about how Hopelab leverages remote research here, or check out a profile of CEO Margaret Laws.

Participants may be less comfortable sharing in conversation with another person than they are when talking into their smartphones during private moments.

Leverage journey mapping to understand how your offering fits into their lives

If you’re trying to understand how your offering fits into the flow of human life, creating a journey map may be the best approach.

Fueled by research on the customer journey, your journey map shows the touchpoints over time that lead to your users or consumers choosing your offering. This is a great tool for deeply understanding the decision touchpoints and processes in a patient or healthcare consumer journey—enabling you to derive channels or approaches that may reach them in the right places and at the right times.

You could use journey maps to understand how a patient books appointments, how a person purchases over-the-counter medication to purchase, or what steps are taken before deciding to seek medical advice…and much more.

If you’re curious about how to get started journey mapping (especially with research on customer journeys), we’ve put together a guide here.

Don’t let quant tell the whole story

Quantitative research and its outputs, especially when used with machine learning models or algorithms that deliver insights, are effective in analyzing business challenges.

But it’s difficult for data to achieve nuance, or to reveal the whole story as it’s actually experienced by a person—remember the importance of human-centricity.

We’re all for healthcare researchers conducting lots of quant—as long as it’s not the only style of research that’s telling the story.

Using digital technology like remote research platforms allows you to connect with the internet-savvy healthcare consumers of the future, and to meet them in the environments in which they’re already interacting—ideally by using the tech they already own and feel comfortable with to record a view into their lives.

We recommend augmenting your quant data by running qualitative research that’s lower in volume but greater in context—so that you can see the actual, documented experience as it happens.

Using digital technology like remote research platforms allows you to connect with the internet-savvy healthcare consumers of the future, and to meet them in the environments in which they’re already interacting—ideally by using the tech they already own and feel comfortable with to record a view into their lives.

Plus, an added benefit of this approach is the ability to build empathy by sharing what they showed you with your stakeholders (when privacy standards permit). It’s compelling to be able to see a real person share a real personal experience in their real words.


The tenets of these tips are simple: Think of your people as humans, not as consumers or patients. By using empathy to become more human-centered in your healthcare research and offerings, you’re able to better design for human factors and improved patient experiences.

Understanding your people where they are and as they live opens the door to innovation that drives better outcomes—in their lives and in yours.

Matt Lardner

A marketer, writer and former journalist, Matt’s obsessed with discovering and telling fascinating stories about people and companies. You’ll find him walking around Chicago with a podcast in his ears.

Curious as we are about what makes people tick?

Get new People Nerds articles in your inbox.