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Psychographics Versus Demographics in Healthcare

February.november Personalization

The healthcare ecosystem uses demographics and behavioral data (e.g., hospital utilization, claims data) to define and identify patients and populations. Hospitals, health insurance companies, urgent care centers and providers of all types group patients and other healthcare consumers into subpopulations through a process of consumer segmentation for purposes of marketing, risk stratification and patient engagement.

Consumer segmentation is a useful tool for driving specificity and efficiencies in targeting, but demographics do not go far enough to influence patient behavior. Before an explanation is offered for this statement, first let’s define the terms used in this article.

According to Merriam-Webster, demographics are the statistical characteristics of human populations, used especially to identify markets. These include age, gender, race/ethnicity and many other physical variables. Health conditions may also fall into this category.

Socioeconomics are social and economic factors, such as income, education and employment and affect one’s ability to make healthy choices, afford medical care and housing, manage stress and more. These are primary drivers of Social Determinants of Health. For the purposes of this article, socioeconomics are included in references to demographics for simplicity.

The main issue with targeting and engaging health consumers is that members of a group with shared physical or situational characteristics do not all think and act alike. While generations like Gen Z tend to get painted as a homogenous mass marching in lockstep, there is a strong diversity of thought among this cohort. The same is true with gender, ethnicity and even people sharing the same health conditions. Why are some patients motivated to tackle a disease while others are more casual in their approach? Why do some patients listen to their physicians and follow their advice while other patients are more challenging? Why are some health consumers dedicated to a healthy lifestyle while others… not so much?

For these answers, one needs to look beyond demographics.


Psychographics pertain to people’s attitudes, values, beliefs, lifestyles and personalities. They are core to consumers’ motivations, priorities and communication preferences. Psychographics help answer WHY patients and other health consumers make decisions and behave in certain ways.

Psychographic segmentation allows a marketer or clinician to identify health consumer types who are most likely to respond to a given subject and craft messaging that activates desired behaviors. Psychographic segmentation has been used extensively in the consumer products, retail, automotive and financial industries since the 1970s, but it is relatively new to healthcare. It provides a lens to consumers’ ways of thinking and how they make decisions.

My team led the psychographic segmentation work for Procter & Gamble Healthcare for the better part of 20 years, developing three generations of models before I joined Upfront. Upfront’s model is an evolution of that work and has identified five distinct psychographic segments among health consumers (numbers in parentheses are the percentages of the U.S. population age 18+ represented by that segment:

  • Self Achievers (21%) – Goal oriented and motivated by measurable progress, Self Achievers are the most proactive and invested in their health.
  • Balance Seekers (15%) – Seeking options and choices and driven by knowledge and new information, Balance Seekers are also wellness-focused and explore different avenues to healthy living.
  • Priority Jugglers (12%) – Focused on responsibilities and managing a busy schedule, Priority Jugglers may not invest in their own health but make sure their loved ones get the care they need.
  • Trustful Responders (15%) – Wanting directive guidance from an expert healthcare professional, Trustful Responders are higher utilizers of the healthcare system but do not generally exhibit preventative behaviors.
  • Willful Endurers (37%) – Living in the “here and now” and wanting immediate gratification, Willful Endurers are reactive – and often disengaged – in their healthcare.

Each psychographic segment requires a different engagement strategy to maximize behavior activation. This includes segment-specific word choice and channel/media mix. What works for one psychographic segment does not necessarily work for another segment.

For example, Priority Jugglers value commitment, dedication, responsibility and sacrifice, but you need to hook them immediately since they don’t have much time to digest a lot of health information. SMS/text messaging works well with Priority Jugglers. Self Achievers respond well to goals, success, progress and achievement, and they are willing to put time toward
researching health information. Self Achievers prefer email and printed documents for the extra information they can provide.

The key takeaway is that a “one size fits all” approach will not be effective in activating desired behaviors across a population of health consumers.

Psychographics in Healthcare

Healthcare organizations of all types are starting to see how psychographics can help them achieve their business and clinical goals. This has manifested as increased revenues, market share and patient loyalty, improved health outcomes and boosts in patient financial responsibility payments.
The following case studies illustrate the power of leveraging psychographics and patient-preferred communication channels to maximize results:

  • 5X increase in telehealth registrations among a population of managed Medicaid members
  • 90 percent reduction in unnecessary hospital readmissions for Congestive Heart Failure
  • 40 percent increase in patient loyalty/retention
  • Significant increases in Google reviews and 5 Star ratings online
  • 200 percent increase in banner ad click-through
  • 81 percent increase in patient payments and 67% reduction in write-offs

Accessing Psychographic Insights

It is a major investment in both dollars and hours to develop a reliable psychographic segmentation model. The model needs to be tested and validated in the field and proven stable and effective over time, especially for a risk-averse industry such as healthcare.

Upfront’s psychographic segmentation model has been proven over the years across many applications. There are several ways to identify a patient’s psychographic segment. The most accurate approach is to have patients answer a 12-question survey, which yields a 91.1% predictability. However, health systems and payers provide care to tens of thousands, if not millions, of patients and it isn’t feasible to have them all answer a survey in short order. Upfront partners with a National Data Compiler (like the companies that determine consumers’ credit scores) to project its psychographic segments across all adults age 18+ in the U.S. with a predictability that is 2X-3X random chance. This allows healthcare organizations to immediately append their patient databases with segment classifications and understand the segment profile of new patient prospects in their competitive geography.

Learn more about how psychographic segmentation can help your organization thrive by downloading our whitepaper, Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Personalized Patient Engagement and Activation.

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