A “Brainy” Way to Influence Your Patient’s Decisions
June 17, 2020
By Steve Vargo, OD, MBA
Research has found that we make almost all our decisions from the emotional side of the brain (limbic system), not the logical side (neocortex). Most of the work involved with decision-making happens subconsciously. Once consciousness kicks in, the brain has already made a decision that’s based more on feelings than logic. There is a mountain of research that supports that, and for our purposes it should be considered when communicating with patients.
As doctors, we like to use a lot of logic and reason when presenting treatment options to patients. Clinicians love facts, data and science. Your patients are all capable of processing that information, but when it comes to decision-making, people rely more on feelings for that. From a neurological perspective, our logical brain is looking for a signal from the emotional brain when presented with choices and options. Without that signal, the result is often no decision at all.
We ask people to make decisions every day. Purchase sunglasses. Start using artificial tears. Switch to a different brand of contact lenses. Return for a yearly exam. Maybe your patients always do what you tell them to, but if you’re like a lot of doctors that struggle with getting patients to follow their advice, then consider making some adjustments to how you communicate.
Research in neuroscience has identified five stimuli that speak to the decision-making part of the brain. Adding these to your discussions with patients can be impactful in getting them to not just hear the information you provide, but ACT on it.
Elicit emotional responses. The limbic system is responsible for emotions, memories and senses. This explains why we make emotional decisions, many of which are not always logical. In fact, the logical side of the brain is responsible for judging situations and information, often resulting in people NOT acting on information they are presented with. An example would be focusing less on spring hinges, and more on style and comfort when presenting frame options.
Be visual. Visual stimuli are processed by the brain faster than all other senses. The optic nerve is physically connected to the decision-making part of the brain and is 25 times faster than the auditory nerve. What we SEE is closely tied to how we FEEL, and since we make decisions based on feelings, visuals are very powerful. Whenever possible, supplement your verbal claims with visuals.
Compare and contrast. Our brains are constantly comparing and contrasting. Good, better, best. Pain or gain. Safe or risky. This happens subconsciously. The brain wants to make quick, risk-free decisions and if the better choice is not obvious, the brain struggles to make a decision. If you want someone to act on the information you’re providing, increase the odds by contrasting the decision you want the patient to make with the alternative.
Be experiential. As discussed, people make decisions based on feelings. Getting people to “feel” like they are experiencing something will strongly influence their decisions. Immerse the patient in the experience you want him or her to have. Storytelling using 3rd party testimonials can accomplish this. Share a story about a patient whose quality of life drastically improved after purchasing a product, having a procedure, etc.
Be patient centric. Our subconscious minds are always asking, “What’s in it for me?” Even when we’re being generous, the subconscious mind is wondering, “What do I get out of this?” This doesn’t mean we can’t be compassionate and empathetic, but the subconscious brain is wired for self-preservation. Always keep the focus on the other person and how the treatment, product or service you’re prescribing will benefit them.
Side note: Dr. Vargo’s 4th book, titled Prescribing Change: How to Make Connections, Influence Decisions and Get Patients to Buy into Change, is due to be released July 14th. Learn more at Drstevevargo.com.
Dr. Vargo serves as Optometric Practice Management Consultant for IDOC. A published author and speaker with more than 15 years clinical experience, he is now a full-time consultant advising ODs in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations. For questions or comments about this article, please contact email@example.com.