The Value of Segmentation in Healthcare
A trend towards the personalisation of medical care
Over the past decades, healthcare systems have been progressively shifting towards a more integrated and patient-centric approach to care. One form of this shift is tailoring treatments to the specific characteristics of the patient (e.g., phenotypes & genotypes), as evidenced by the framework created under the International Consortium for Personalized Medicine (ICPerMed). Another form, however, and the focus of this article, is the development of care-plans, products, and services that meet patients’ lifestyle needs and personal preferences in addition to clinical needs.
“…the importance of ‘what matters to someone’ is not just ‘what’s the matter with someone’. Since individuals’ values and preferences differ, ensuring choice and sharing control can meaningfully improve care outcomes.”
This second type of personalisation is increasingly being recognized by healthcare services. “Personalised care” is one of the five major practical objectives laid out by NHS England in their 2019 long-term plan, recognising that “…the importance of ‘what matters to someone’ is not just ‘what’s the matter with someone’. Since individuals’ values and preferences differ, ensuring choice and sharing control can meaningfully improve care outcomes.” In short, healthcare services seek to improve patient outcomes by both being more responsive to patient needs and providing patients with more agency.
This new mindset adds complexity to patient care and delivery of solutions: more stakeholders (patients and their caregivers) are now involved in care decision-making and non-clinical factors must be considered across hospital and community settings. These non-clinical factors, such as patient lifestyles and preferences, are much harder to measure for medical professionals, especially given the budget and staffing shortages faced in many healthcare systems. On the other hand, these challenges represent an opportunity for healthcare companies to enhance their own offerings.
Manufacturers also have an opportunity to play a role in creating long-term value for patients through personalization of care. Thanks to developments in telehealth services, app and web-based patient programmes and the integration of smart technology in wearable medical devices, companies can reach patients across a variety of channels and extend their services and product offerings more efficiently. This presents an opportunity to become the “partner of choice” with patients and caregivers along their journey.
Patient segmentation is now more important than ever
To take advantage of this opportunity, medical players are increasingly moving from a product to a patient-centric mindset. This requires developing a deeper understanding of psychological and behavioural facets of patients, and using that understanding to tailor services, communication materials, and products to wider patient needs.
Building this understanding is especially important in the case of body-modifying surgeries or wearable medical devices that can have long term repercussions on a patient’s self-image, confidence, and social life. It is common for patients to experience stigmas associated with living with an insulin pump for diabetic patients, with aids following hearing loss, or with an ostomy bag following a bladder or bowel resection. Needless to say, these patients have a complex set of personal, medical, and practical needs that require HCPs to engage on a deeper level and on topics that go beyond the learnings of a traditional curriculum or patient-approach.
Going down the Direct-To-Consumer communication (DTC) route may not be a suitable option for all Medical Supply or MedTech companies. For example, some companies have made a deliberate strategic choice to focus all their go-to-market efforts on Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) and payers in order to establish strong medical credibility and/or differentiate from Over-the-Counter (OTC) players. In other cases, local regulations may be restrictive and not allow for much direct communication to patients.
Yet, even in these varied cases and circumstances, building a deeper understanding of patients still represents an opportunity to develop tailored tools and services to support the work of HCPs and drive prescriptions and/or recommendations to their patients. In the UK, the NHS notes that “creating genuine partnerships requires professionals to work differently, as well as a systematic approach to engaging patients in decisions about their health and wellbeing”. To this end, HCPs have become more open to ad-hoc training and support tools to facilitate “the conversations which help patients make the decisions that are right for them”.
What we have learnt from recent segmentation work in medical devices
Sector & Segment recently conducted a large multi-country patient segmentation for one of our clients working in the field of medical devices with the goal of supplementing previous segmentation research on HCPs.
While interviewing HCPs, we learned that while clinical needs were assessed on a patient-by-patient basis, many HCPs divided their patients in terms of 1. broad age groups (18-30, 30-60 and over 60 years old) to assess lifestyle-related needs and 2. underlying medical conditions (chronic, acute, and emergency patients) to assess needs related to the level of psychological support required. This in turn would be used to determine how they would approach patients in terms of time and attention paid to address patients’ personal needs. For example, we found that HCPs spent more time with younger patients and were more likely to provide them with support on selecting a product that fit their daily life or with information on wider topics. By contrast, HCPs spent less time with “older” patients and prioritized meeting medical and practical needs, often overlooking the rest.
What we learnt working with patients, however, is that grouping them using broad segmentation criteria throws only a partial light on the challenges that they face, their needs, and the type of support that they seek along their journey.
1. Patient preferences and behaviours are complex, and age is not the sole factor when seeking to explain or predict them
While it is true that there are patient needs associated with age, like planning for a family or building a career, as well as practical challenges such as reduced dexterity and autonomy, those needs are not the sole determinant of patient behaviour. In our study, patients willing to engage with others about their condition and be proactive in researching information and products were equally present across all age groups. This revelation disproved our initial hypothesis that more mature patients were more likely to follow their HCPs recommendations rather than playing an active role in the decision making relating to their care. In fact, when looking at the distribution of behaviours and needs by age, the 60–75-year-old bracket had a similar distribution as other “younger” groups.
2. Needs and behaviours resulting from an underlying condition are not “set in stone” but can evolve over the course of the journey
A patient’s underlying condition plays a key role not only in determining their medical needs but also in shaping their emotional journey. Depending on their condition, patients may take a different approach preparing for and accepting the same surgical procedure. For example, if we consider the same surgical procedure conducted on three different types of patients: one with a chronic illness, one with cancer, and one involved in an accident, we will see different initial attitudes and behaviours.
- For the chronic patient, the surgery may be a step in a long treatment after enduring years of pain, and they may be more mentally prepared for this event
- For the cancer patient, this surgery could be just the beginning of their battle with cancer and represent uncertainty about the ultimate outcome
- For a patient who underwent the same surgery as a result of an accident or trauma their initial reaction is likely to be shock due to the unexpected outcome
These differences in reactions, attitudes, and behaviours, however, are likely to change as the patient progresses through their journey. What we found, for example, is that trauma and oncology patients developed a more positive attitude towards the same procedure by the end of the second year, while chronic patients who were initially more positive in relative terms, took much longer to come to terms with their new life and required more constant support. This evolution in needs indicates the importance of breaking down the patient journey into phases and approaching each phase as an individual journey. Ultimately, this allows for a mapping of how needs and behaviours evolve over time and an opportunity to target patients with greater precision.
3. Furthermore, when patients present multiple comorbidities, behaviours/preferences associated with each condition may overlap or differ
A patient’s behaviours may not even be consistent when it comes to their approach to comorbidities. Our research has found that when patients have multiple comorbidities, they would often take on different behaviours and attitudes depending on the condition they are focused on, as well as prioritise one condition over another. This is commonly seen in chronic patients who often have several conditions or co-morbidities. For example, a diabetes patient may also have hypertension or cardiac disease, or a head & neck cancer patient may also have dysphagia. We have observed that patients with hypertension and diabetes are likely to prioritise hypertension because this represents the more serious condition which can lead to a heart attack, while diabetes has a slower progression and therefore a slower impact. In this case, a patient can be “proactive” towards their hypertension (engaging with HCPs, conducting their own research, connecting with other patients), while at the same time being “passive” towards their diabetes (not following the prescribed diet, not monitoring their glucose levels as closely, missing appointments). This further demonstrated the relevance of specific segmentations, since patients’ behaviours, attitudes and needs shift considerably between conditions and areas of care.
How not to lose a patient in 1 year
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that over half of the patients in our research sample were dissatisfied with the level of information and support received from their HCP. They frequently found the support they received to be too generic or not relevant to their practical and emotional needs in that moment. Furthermore, they often did not follow their HCP product recommendation, switching to other manufacturers within one year from point of discharge.
From a manufacturer’s point of view, understanding who these patients are, why they stayed or why they switched and how they made this decision, can be paramount in setting out a sales and marketing strategy and developing detailed action plans.
Having well defined and quantifiable patient segments based on needs, channel of information and source of influence, as well as attitude and behaviours can help answer questions like:
- What patient-segments should we prioritise?
- What channels should we use to reach these patients more effectively and efficiently?
- Do we already have products in the market to support these patients’ needs? How should we position our portfolio against patients’ needs? Should we prioritise some innovations over others? Do we need to rationalise our portfolio?
- How can we offer more value to patients?
How we can help
Our experts can support your growth strategy by identifying and quantifying your customer segments, guiding your team to set priorities, develop tools and position your service and product offering for long-term success.