Vantage Point

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As my associates and I have studied health care behavior over the decades, we have observed several trends that are now changing substantially. Studying the impact of these changes, I believe, will be a lot of what health care marketing research is about in the next five years.

As Clayton M. Christensen discusses so lucidly in his just-published The Innovator's Prescription, medicine has always relied on the intuition of highly trained physicians as the linchpin of most disease treatment.   

Two major phenomena will help stem this tide we can no longer afford to support financially. The first is a transition from intuition-based medicine to precision-based medicine. For years, we have allowed therapeutics to get ahead of specific diagnostics. We have not developed specific diagnostic tests and algorithms to predict with any great accuracy whether a product will work for a specific patient, making it no wonder that our success rate in many treatment areas hovers at the 50% level. Imagine how much more efficient, both in lower costs and better outcomes, medicine will become when other medications can be prescribed with the same precision. 

As such precision develops in other areas of medicine, our odds of success will go up and our costs will go down. I recently had dinner with a leading pediatric neurologist, who reported that in his practice he has taken the more routinized parts of treating epilepsy and delegated them to nurse practitioners. 

MinuteClinics, springing up in many pharmacies and employing nurse practitioners to treat common ailments quickly and inexpensively, also serve to demonstrate that for most medical conditions that arise, a good set of specific diagnostic tools and rules allow us, with precision rather than intuition, to have nonphysician healthcare workers do much of the work—efficiently.  

Healthcare marketing researchers will have to keep an eye on these rules and roles as they change, and adjust our sampling procedures and other components of methodology accordingly.

In summary, rather than continuing to bemoan the rising cost of health care, it is time to do something about it. Precision and efficiency, rather than simply charging higher insurance premiums, will become increasingly important watchwords for healthcare marketing researchers as we close out this decade.

Richard Vanderveer is CEO of GfK Healthcare 

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