In May, Franklin Street’s Senior VP of Client Services Stephen Moegling spoke at the Georgia Society for Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations about the benefits and best practices of marketing healthcare services to men. In preparation, Stephen chatted with Reyn Kinzey, a friend and partner of Franklin Street with over 20 years of qualitative healthcare market research experience, to get some insights on gender differences when it comes to marketing healthcare.
Stephen: What have you noticed are some differences in the way men and women interact with healthcare?
Reyn: When it comes to healthcare, like many other things, men and women sometimes seem to come from different planets, or as I like to say, they were born in different hospitals.
Ultimately, men and women want the same things from healthcare. They want to be cared for and healed by doctors and health care workers who are competent and compassionate and who care about not only them as patients, but also for their families. The differences, then, are in the ways men and women go about getting those things from their healthcare providers.
Women are very involved in their healthcare, seeing it as a work-in-process that can always be improved. Our research clearly indicates that women want more information, more explanations, and more choices. They, much more than men, seem to want to understand the mechanics of a disease and all of the ramifications of treatment.
In contrast, I have often found that men, particularly if their situation is not life threatening, can take a very cavalier attitude towards their own treatment. Some men clearly do not need to feel like they understand what is going on, and reflect more of a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude.
Stephen: Do men & women interact with their doctors differently, too?
Reyn: They certainly do. Women often say that they need to have a “relationship” with their doctors (men blush at the word), and relationships, for women, often demand more time in conversation than men do. No one – male or female – likes to talk to a doctor who has his or her hand on the door knob, but women are much more likely to be offended (“you’re not listening to me”) than men.
Women tend to use conversation much more to build rapport and develop relationships, while men much more often simply use conversation to relay information. In some ways, this probably reflects men’s greater acceptance of heirarchal roles. Rather than feeling like they need to be a part of the decision-making process, men just tend to want to feel sure that the doctor understands what is going on (“he’s the doctor, not me”).
Stephen: Does it make a difference if you conduct mixed focus groups as opposed to single-gender groups?
Reyn: Most of the time, yes. The differences in the ways men and women look at health care justify separating focus groups into all male and all female groups and, whenever possible, matching the gender of the moderator to the gender of the participants.
The reason I said most of the time is because we have found that men with chronic illnesses, or who have children with particular problems, often know a tremendous amount about the system and are very involved in their own, or their child’s, care. Further, by the time men and women enter their 60′s, the differences in involvement with the health care system tend to fade.
Stephen: What happens when the groups are mixed?
Reyn: If you conduct mixed gender groups, it is as though the men had just been reminded by their Boy Scout Master not to show any emotion. They will say ridiculous things, such as “I couldn’t care less about a doctor’s bedside manner. All I care about is how good a doctor he is.” However, if those same men are in an all male group, in fifteen minutes they are all consoling one another because their doctors didn’t tell them that the prostate surgery might leave them impotent.
Even women tend to get more rationalistic in mixed group discussion of health care, which is seldom where moderators want to go. We are taught to look for the less rational, more emotional feelings underlying what participants say because, as all marketers should know, rational reasoning is often not the way we make important decisions.
Stephen: It is generally thought that healthcare organizations need only to market to women, as they are typically the decision-makers in the household. Do you think this is true?
Reyn: Considering the gender differences and exceptions discussed earlier, hospitals may rightly conclude that women may make up their primary market, but they should definitely not overlook the growing importance of the male market as well.