Applying a New Lens to Look at Health Care Consumers

July 21, 2016  |  Mike Eaton


Hospitals, doctors and health systems increasingly assess and segment populations into “healthy, rising-risk and high-cost” cohorts. Interventions are targeted at each cohort with goals of keeping healthy people well, slowing the progression of chronic disease and eliminating gaps in care to prevent adverse events and eliminate avoidable medical costs.

This risk-based segmentation, while helpful for targeting clinical interventions, tells only part of the story as to why and how people chose to buy goods and services, including medical care. It is a one-dimensional snapshot that can produce wrong brand and business strategy decisions by hospitals, doctors and systems.

The Diffusion of Innovation Curve

A common model for understanding how people buy goods and services (and not just health care) is the Diffusion of Innovation Curve. It is traditionally organized into four cohorts, based on when in the product cycle people are most likely to purchase:

In recent research, BVK applied a slightly modified “Diffusion Curve” as a lens to better understand the buying behaviors of health care consumers. We combined survey respondents into “Early Adopter”, “Wait and See”, “Only if Everyone Else Does” and “Avoid at All Cost” groupings. We were particularly interested in understanding the “Early Adopters” and how they consume medical and wellness care.

What we learned has big implications for clinical product development and health care marketing.

The Early Adopters

Early Adopters are commonly presumed to be younger, healthier, wealthier and better educated. Those assumptions were borne out by our research.

Conventional wisdom is that because they are younger and healthier, Early Adopters are less likely to use traditional inpatient and specialty medical care. On that point, not so much.

Our research found Early Adopters self-report as healthy. Yet they are the most likely to have a hospital inpatient stay in the past two years. Let me reinforce that finding — Early Adopters may be healthy, commercially insured and young, but they are more likely to consume traditional medical services than the “Wait and See”, “Only If Everyone Else Does” and “Avoid at All Cost” cohorts!

Early Adopters are eager consumers of wellness products and services. They are likely to participate in screenings and health fairs to pre-emptively identify emerging threats and proactively manage lifestyle risks. They will “stand in line” to be first with new technologies including virtual health services and wearables. And, they consider Google, WebMD, Microsoft and Wal-Mart to be important assets in their care network.

We learned Early Adopters are somewhat reluctant but active case managers of their own health. Many are digital natives who share their diagnoses and search for advice in their social media networks. As active self-managers, Early Adopters shop for expertise and will pay a premium for high-value services.

Early Adopters will shop and “unbundle” the integrated service portfolios that health systems have invested so heavily to build to get the high-value services they want. And, yet, the Early Adopter will be brand loyal to the system that delivers a “value of the whole” that is greater than the sum of the individual clinical parts.

Strategy Implications

Early Adopters make up only about 10 percent of health care consumers but have an outsize impact on brand and business performance:

To learn more about BVK’s insights from our research around Early Adopters — and our learnings from the application of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve to health care consumers, please contact us directly for a presentation of our research and a discussion of what it means for your hospital, physician enterprise or health system.


Mike Eaton
is a Senior VP at BVK

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