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Addressing Overconfident Misperceptions in Healthcare

The human mind forms fast impressions of most situations. Usually, this works pretty well, but very often it leads to false impressions of new information and of familiar situations. We go into situations with long-standing beliefs and assumptions. We form and keep our misperceptions because we think quickly, and don’t do much second-guessing of our own reasoning or memory processes. Humans do indeed get a lot right, but, also, we systematically get things wrong.


Misperceptions Are Everywhere in Healthcare

Healthcare is no exception. Everyone in the healthcare ecosystem has a human mind, so misperceptions are everywhere. These misperceptions are powerful forces, and deserve careful attention:


  • Products are misperceived: The true value or even the basic function of products is often underappreciated by HCPs and patients.

  • Human bodies are misperceived: Mechanisms of action, basic biological function, and disease processes are insufficiently understood, and their implications are not recognized.

  • Human minds are misperceived: We frequently fail to understand our own emotions and actions, let alone the emotions and actions of others.

  • Market forces are misperceived: People have naïve views on the economic and regulatory forces they must navigate.


Misperceptions are Overconfident

Not only are misperceptions common, but they are also sticky. Our misperceptions tend to be overconfident. We tend to be overly certain in the details of our view of the world. We tend to be overly certain that our priorities are right. And we tend to be overly certain that we already know enough about the world to make the right choices we need to make.

  • HCPs have overconfident misperceptions: HCPs may not fully appreciate the motivations of many of their patients. They may not appreciate the value of a drug's different mechanism of action.

  • Patients have overconfident misperceptions: Patients may have inappropriate expectations of what a product or service or HCP can do. They may also not understand their own and others' emotional reactions to risk and challenge.

  • Commercial teams have overconfident misperceptions: Commercial teams may not fully appreciate the nature of the objections they typically face. They may not understand consumer decision-making processes as well as they could.


Overcoming Overconfident Misperceptions: Stakeholders Need Better Mental Models

Marketers and healthcare leaders can rarely simply offer a key detail to successfully clarify a misperception. Misperceptions are usually sticky or entrenched and require more than fact-sharing to overcome. Indeed, we call them "overconfident misperceptions" for this reason. Marketers and leaders must foster better intuition among stakeholders by building stakeholders' “mental models” (worldviews, beliefs, categories, etc.).

Success is possible, especially when science and craft are brought together. Behavioral science researchers have developed and tested hundreds of approaches with varying success. Similarly, industry efforts have produced a mixed bag of outcomes. Decades of work in both domains have revealed some best practices for building mental models among stakeholders.


Help stakeholders reexamine the world and their assumptions about it

Stakeholders are often unaware of their own knowledge gaps so they may resist or ignore new information. Often, they hold long-standing, inaccurate assumptions that rarely get tested. They think they already know all of the information they need to know. Marketers and leaders can help them see the world differently and create interest in re-examining old assumptions by implementing behavioral science techniques.


Frame information so that people can see the why and the how

As people take in new information, they attempt to fit the new information into their current worldviews. We have established views of the world and we are not looking to change those views unless we have to. New information is most effective when it forces us to see a different perspective instantly. Metaphor. Narrative. Visualization. These are key elements in the craft of communication and marketing. Behavioral science shows us why they are necessary and gives us ideas about how to be successful in their implementation. Good communication finds ways to create connections to a person's existing view of the world.


Get them asking the right questions.

People often ignore new information presented to them because they often weren't looking for new information in the first place. So, the first step for marketers and healthcare leaders is to stimulate curiosity among customers so they start to ask the right questions and are receptive to new information. Giving information is much easier than generating curiosity and interest so that first step is often skipped, but behavioral science can help. If you ask someone to explain how something works, they often realize they don't really know most of the details. This tactic can generate curiosity and prompt a deeper investigation and information search. If you can encourage a skeptic to make a concrete prediction, they will have to think more carefully, consider more information, and they may also take an interest in whether their prediction turns out to be right. Behavioral science has much to say about how and when the human desire for curiosity is activated.