Healthcare Decision Support Tools: Consumer’s Rational Approach (Part 2 of 2)

In Tuesday’s post, we covered where consumers start the process of healthcare decision making, explained the Cynefin Framework and explored how consumers choose – when tackling the domain of complex decisions.  In today’s discussion, we will expand this thinking and analyze rational consumer decisions in greater depth exploring selection, barriers to avoid, and five specific strategies for success when choosing consumer decision support tools.

Rational Consumer Decisions

If we are able to arrive at deliberate decisions through rational means of information dissemination, then how do we alter natural instinctive thinking to drive consumers towards behavior changes when they use non-rational means for decisions? In short, opening the door to consumer decision support and magical dreams, where price is replaced with value and the immediacy of out-of-pocket costs become a quest for accurate annual cost of care forecasts.

Gladwell, takes a run at tackling this challenge: “our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions — we can alter the way we thin-slice — by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions.”  We alter instinctive thinking through managing a consumers’ first experience with our products or services.  Michael Porter’s “What is Strategy” article reminds us that, “the essence of strategy is choosing to perform activities differently than rivals do.” If we follow our competitors — we’ll never be leading them. We start by defining the ‘what’ and concentrate energy on tilting the first impressions of decision support aids. 


Creation and Selection

Operational effectiveness means doing things better than competitors, strategic positioning means doing things different from competitors and having better products and services. We introduce consumer decision support tools to do things different, not better.  This is a critical element of a successful consumer support tool adoption. The different drives social media and ideas worth sharing, not a link on a website rarely engaged.

Start by stepping outside your office. Look around.  Look outside your industry and open the curtain. Ask yourself what other industries have been using for consumer decision support tools?  U.S. News and World Report has for years published, America’s Best Colleges. What are they trying to accomplish and why will the consumer experience change for the better? Other industries have similar examples.  The food and beverage industry has Nutrition Facts Panels and the automotive industry has the Consumer Reports: Car Buying Guide. When creating or evaluating consumer decision support tools, take a wide lens view.

There are many types of healthcare consumer decision support tools including selecting a health plan, choosing a type of health coverage (e.g. HMO vs. PPO), choosing between difference medical treatment options, comparing difference prescription medications, selecting a primary care physician, choosing between prescription options (e.g. brand vs. generic) and selecting a provider (e.g. hospital or physician for a given service). While the offerings vary, these tools generally land in one of two categories: prevention or treatment support.

It’s important to understand the ‘what’ you’re trying to accomplishing as you push forward, working to empower your customers. The first type of tool ‘selection,’ occurs before you’re aware of care and focuses on anticipating future costs. Selection consumer decision support tools often include out-of-pocket cost estimators, HSA savings calculators, side-by-side plan comparisons, health benefits/needs questionnaires, and open enrollment presentations focused on education.  The second type of tool care ‘treatment support’, occurs after the consumers’ know they have a condition, may have treatment, or effectively have become the patient. Treatment support consumer decision support tools often include symptom checkers, knowledge databases, health-related videos, online customer service, personal health records storage, and access to provider databases. The primary difference between selection and treatment support tools, is selection is focused around anticipating costs, treatment selection is focused on mitigating costs. Additionally, treatment support products assume the consumer is already in a health plan and is looking for options based their current coverage.


Barriers to Avoid and Strategies for Success

To create a desired end-state, we must understand key barriers of effective use as we develop strategies for success and accept the rationale consumers use for decision making.  There are classic barriers that should be considered as you roll out a consumer decision support tool. Classic barriers to effective use include: lack of consumer awareness, lack of relevant and standardized content, poor design and presentation, missing features in web-based tools (poor UX), lack of trust in the source of the support, low levels of health literacy, and lack of online access to web-based tools.  We could spend all of the day’s available hours planning, anticipating, and building mitigation strategies. We could spend even more time wondering ‘what if.’ Dedicating some time for developing a strong plan b is time well invested.  Spending too much time on ‘what if’ scenarios is a waste of time.  Start moving forward today.

Building effective consumer decision support tools starts with a discussion about ‘what’ you plan to offer and ‘why’ you are offering it. Once you have defined the ideal future consumer state and established the buy-in to move forward, where do we start?  There are five important strategies for promoting more effective c consumer decisions support tool usage, which your leadership team should explore including: 1. understanding the decision context and audience 2. crafting appropriate content 3. establish strategies for presenting complex information, 4. selecting an appropriate medium, and 5. maximizing awareness and value of the tool.

Selecting a consumer decision support tool starts by understanding where in the member to patient experience, the tool will be assistive.  Then define the ‘what.’ What are we trying to accomplish e.g. out-of-pocket cost savings or education? Lastly we need to clarify the ‘why.’  Fast forwarding a year, ‘why’ has the consumer’s experience changed? ‘Why’ do you have happier consumers?

Once your team has answered these hard questions, you’re finally ready to transform the consumer experience. God Speed.



Rosenthal, R. (2014). 5 Psychological Tactics Marketers Use To Influence Consumer Behavior (online image). Retrieved October 26, 2015, from

Peter Nichol, empowers organizations to think different for different results. You can follow Peter on Twitter or on his blog. Peter can be reached at pnichol [dot]

Previous articleHealthcare Decision Support Tools: Consumer’s Rational Approach (Part 1 of 2)
Next articleCIO Perspectives: Impact of Technological Singularity on Analytics
Peter is a technology executive with 19 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.