CHPA Chat - Patient Confidence Index: Using Education as a Driver of Empowered Health Decisions

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Episode Summary

PatientPoint's 2023 Patient Confidence Index reveals that four in ten Americans avoid doctor's visits due to anxiety or fear. In this episode, Health In Hand Foundation Executive Director Mary Leonard and PatientPoint's Chief Client Officer Linda Ruschau discuss the importance of education to drive empowerment and informed decision-making. Tune in to learn about the important role healthcare providers and manufacturers play to build trust with patients for better health outcomes.



Episode Transcript

Mary Leonard: No decisions are more personal than the ones we make about our health, and feeling confident and empowered in those decisions makes all the difference in our self-care.

Announcer: Welcome to CHPA Chat, conversations in the consumer healthcare industry.

Mary Leonard: I'm Mary Leonard and I'm the Executive Director of the Health in Hand Foundation. We are the 501(c)(3) arm of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, and our mission is to empower safe, informed decisions when it comes to choosing and using self-care products. Now, that empowerment comes from having the knowledge to know the choices you're making about your own health and your family's health are the right ones.

Now, we know one of the biggest sources of information for consumers and patients is their healthcare provider. Could be their general practitioner, their specialists, or even a pharmacist. But according to a recent survey from PatientPoint, there is a big gap in how Americans are feeling about seeing their doctor. PatientPoint's 2023 Patient Confidence Index reveals four in 10 Americans are putting off seeing their healthcare provider due to anxiety or fear.

In today's podcast, we'll drill more deeply into those survey results and uncover opportunities to drive patient and consumer education, which ultimately will drive better health.

Hello, listeners. Welcome to today's podcast. Here with me today is Linda Ruschau, Chief Client Officer at PatientPoint. Linda, welcome to CHPA Chat.

Linda Ruschau: Hi, Mary. Thank you so much for having me today.

Mary Leonard: Absolutely, and I'm really excited to dive into this survey. Before we get into the key findings, which I know there are many that I want to talk with you about, I want to learn a little bit more about the impetus for why PatientPoint started this index. Can you share with us just a little bit about why you thought, let's come up with this confidence index and this type of research?

Linda Ruschau: Absolutely. As you may know, our mission at PatientPoint is to make every doctor-patient engagement better. It's what we do, what we think about every single day. So truly understanding what's in the mind of the patient as they are encountering and visiting with their doctor is of the utmost importance to us.

Oftentimes, as healthcare marketers, I think we forget about these nuances that are really unique to the doctor's appointment and how we feel as a patient versus a marketer. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What do they need, and what do they want from this experience?
We have found overwhelmingly that information is the antidote to the rampant anxiety and overwhelming-ness that we're observing in the survey results year over year.

Mary Leonard: That is really interesting. I love that, information is the antidote. That leads me into the statistic I mentioned in the opening, that four in 10 statistic. So taking a deeper dive into fear and anxiety, the top reasons for avoiding a doctor's visit according to your survey, that included being potentially unable to afford your care. So 52% said being unable to afford their care, that financial fear.

Forty percent, anxiety about potential procedures or tests, and then 39%, fear of receiving bad news or a serious diagnosis. I know I always get anxious awaiting any kind of result from my doctor, so I can relate to that one, for sure. I think they're all very common and relatable emotions. What's your interpretation of these statistics, and why do you think there's this heightened level of anxiety and fear this year?

Linda Ruschau: Yeah, it's scary, isn't it? Again, if we go back to what-

Mary Leonard: It's scary. Yes.

Linda Ruschau: I was mentioning previously, to putting ourselves in the mind of a patient, whenever any of us go to the doctor, whether it's your primary care doctor or, God forbid, an oncologist or you're waiting for test results, we're all thinking about I should've lost that 10 pounds, or I shouldn't have eaten those French fries before I came to the doctor today.

But what it really boils down to, there's going to be a common theme in our discussion today, Mary, is about education and information. I think there's this ongoing debate as to whether there is actually too much information out there, but there's not enough trusted information and provided in a condensed format, in an easy to understand format, and deliver that information when and where it can help.

Nearly half of the healthcare consumers who had these negative emotions about the doctor's visit this year said that they didn't have enough information or education to help them prepare for that visit and discussion. That was up from 38% in 2022.

We all know there's this information highway out there called the internet, so it's not that there's a lack of information, right? It's what's the right information, and how do they get that in a way that they can trust it, that they can engage with it, and that it helps them have a better interaction with the doctor? Again, I'll just say it over and over, that information is empowerment, and empowerment is something that Americans just don't feel like they have right now.

Mary Leonard: I think you bring up such a good point about the credibility of the information source, when we look at as an industry, how do we shore up that fear and anxiety? We think about education as a key driver to help alleviate those feelings. Your survey said 57% of people said their healthcare provider is their top source of information. Forty-three percent said Google or search engines. Thirty-one percent said social media. So it goes back to, gosh, there is this proliferation of information out there. Some of it is misinformation, especially as you said, talking about internet, social media.

What are some ways that healthcare providers can build that trust and serve as a credible source of information or partnership, and really and partnership, right? Information and partnership because you want to be a partner with your patients. What are some of the key ways healthcare providers can do that?

Linda Ruschau: Mary, I spend a lot of time talking to our healthcare providers. I was actually ... just had the privilege of being in Salt Lake with an advisory panelist of oncologists across the country. They hate what they call “Dr. Google” patients come in-

Mary Leonard: Oh gosh, yes.

Linda Ruschau: ... they've Googled it, their neighbor down the street. There was someone across the world who took fertilizer and cured their cancer, the most ridiculous stories. When it comes to an HCP, a healthcare provider, building trust, it really comes down to trying to meet people where they are and providing easy to understand treatment options.
We've done a segment at PatientPoint where the patient is listening to the doctor, and pretty soon it sounds like the doctor's speaking in a foreign language. So they have to whoops, pause, slow down. [inaudible 00:07:40]

Mary Leonard: Yes. Well, think about the ingredient names are so long, the condition names. It's like plain language is so important.

Linda Ruschau: Absolutely, and that was reinforced in our survey. Explaining things in simple terms, 62% of consumers. Fifty-seven percent said, listening to patients' concerns. Some of the best, excuse me, the best providers are the best listeners. Providing personalized education and resources about their conditions, symptoms, and treatment options was 55% of consumers.
I think this really presents a terrific opportunity for over-the-counter manufacturers in particular to build trust by leveraging the voice of that influential physician. You don't want them Googling. You don't want them to make that decision once they get to the store shelf. You want them to go in feeling empowered, having that doctor's recommendation, which we know can make all the difference in OTC brands. That's why everyone wants that number one doctor recommended claim. Why? Because when it comes down to it, the physician is always going to be the most credible, trusted source of information out there.

Delivering the message about your product and your product efficacy, and how does it work? I understand what a heartburn medication is. Do you understand that that's a proton pump inhibitor? What does that mean? It means it stops the little pumps on the inside of your stomach.

I personally still use a specific brand for both heartburn and eyedrops that I remember my HCP recommended 25 years ago. That has stickiness to it. It creates loyal consumers by really partnering with the physician to deliver the information, not just what the physician explains, but what the manufacturers can explain, thereby helping the patient.

Mary Leonard: That's a key way that manufacturers can build trust, right, build trust with the patient through the trusted voice of the HCP.

Linda Ruschau: Absolutely.

Mary Leonard: That's a really good takeaway for our listeners. I love that.
I want to go back. You had talked a little bit about the importance of listening to patients' concerns, explaining things in simple terms, and then also providing that personalized education, and that really, we look at how important personalized healthcare has become. Your survey showed more than half of Americans said, knowing how and why their treatment is important to them would make them feel empowered to adhere to that treatment plan. So it's the importance to them, and this is the notion of personalized healthcare. Each patient or consumer's health and background is unique. Each treatment plan is different. We are not the same people. We are unique individuals.

Linda Ruschau: Thank goodness for that.

Mary Leonard: Yes. What are some of the key ways you're seeing a shift in personalized healthcare and the role of the healthcare provider to drive better awareness and adherence to a treatment plan?

Linda Ruschau: Yeah, patients want to know that their healthcare provider knows them. Can you imagine walking into the doctor and them saying, "What are you here for-

Mary Leonard: "Who are you?"

Linda Ruschau: ... today?" Or, "You what? You have high cholesterol?" Or, "I didn't know you were taking that." Of course, that's why there's electronic medical records.

But I do think there's this balance in healthcare between being creepy personalized, how much do they really know about me, and then really being personalized and customized from a standpoint of listening and being heard.
According to our survey, most Americans, in fact 83%, have confidence in their healthcare provider to deliver that personalized experience. So actually HCPs are doing quite well there in the world-

Mary Leonard: That's great, yeah. Great to hear.

Linda Ruschau: ... of personalization. I think over the past decade, and certainly accelerated over the past five years, there are a myriad of digital tools to help those physicians deliver that personalized experience. By asking questions and opening the dialogue with patients, they are able then to deliver that customized educational content to help get them talking and improve that understanding, adherence, and ultimately the outcomes.

The worst thing for a doctor, and again, this comes up time and time again in our discussions, is as a patient ... So anybody who's listening, now you can think about this opportunity as a patient. "How are you doing today?" "I'm fine. How are you?" Okay, you're with your doctor. You're likely not fine or you wouldn't be there.

Mary Leonard: Let's peel back the layers.

Linda Ruschau: Right, and eliminate that stigma from mentioning something. The doctors call it the doorknob conversation. It's like they'll do the whole physical, they're walking out the door, they've got their hand on the door, and then the patient says, "By the way, I've been meaning to mention, I'm having some digestive issues." So taking that further, I'm going to challenge a little bit in the industry the difference between targeted and personalized. I'll bring this in for the OTC listeners out there.

Mary Leonard: Yes, that would be so helpful.

Linda Ruschau: I think there's such an opportunity in terms of targeted messaging in the physician's office. When I think of the targeting example, let's say I've been Googling a cashmere sweater. I may be reading my morning news or doing my work, and I'm going to get queued up an ad for a cashmere sweater. That's targeting, but it's certainly not personalized.

So what if instead if you had been searching for a probiotic, I don't want to get that teed up in the middle of my workday. But what about delivering that message to the consumer when they're at the moment in time that they can process it and they can act on it? Again, that goes back to the incredible value that this channel of inserting the message with the physician and the patients can bring to OTC brands.

Mary Leonard: Right at that point of care.

Linda Ruschau: Yes. Yes, absolutely. The right time, the right place, and the right third-party influencer. It's that triangulated approach that really drives ultimate results and frankly does better good. The patient can't act on it, they can't process it. What are they supposed to do with that information, versus, "How does a probiotic work? What is that even going to do for me? Oh, now I understand it."

Mary Leonard: I think you bring up such a great point of being there when the patient is in that mindset talking to their healthcare provider. Then they're asking the questions, and there's an option right there for them to consider. So I think that's a great example.

I want to switch topics a little bit to the race and ethnicity lens, because I know your survey looked at a lot of different populations and opportunities that were revealed that really talked about ways to provide connection and empowerment. I wanted you to share some of the findings about ... thinking about the doctor's visit through the lens of race and ethnicity, and are there opportunities to connect more deeply and go back to that theme of building trust with these consumers?

Linda Ruschau: Absolutely, Mary, and you are spot on. Categorically, non-whites are feeling negative emotions more than whites about the doctor's visit itself and their level of education. Before the doctor's visit, Asian-Americans were much more likely than white respondents to feel confused, at a ratio of 36% compared to 20%. They were overwhelmed, 37% versus 19%. And the worst description, intimidated, 30% versus 16%.

Taking some of those same findings to the Hispanic or Latino-Americans, they were much more likely than white respondents to feel anxious, 63% versus 48%. Stressed, nearly double the amount. Overwhelmed, nearly double the amount before visiting the doctor. Hispanic and Latino-Americans were also nearly twice as likely to be concerned about what they might find out at their appointment compared to white respondents. Why is that, right? If I could crack that code, we wouldn't be having a webinar right now.

But we have an obligation as marketers and as an industry to help break down those barriers with content that is not just language appropriate and translated, but approaches the consumers and the patients with both imagery and content that speaks to their race and culture.

We've done a lot of work at PatientPoint on a tool that we use that we call Audience Builder. Just using one example, there was a product for HIV. The key demographic, the highest incidence levels were among black men. But when we looked at the targets, the total percentage of black men that were being impacted was only 13% of the overall campaign. So how do we work together to figure out, maybe that's not on my target demographic, but it is absolutely the targeted patient that I need to reach.

In addition, when we take some of those thoughts about culture into effect, when we first launched our first waiting room network ... many people don't know this. It was a product called Consejo Saludables, the Hispanic Family Network. That was so helpful to me long ago to really start to understand the need to address not just the patient as a singular patient, but in the Hispanic community looking at the entire family. The entire family oftentimes goes to the doctor's office together. When you talk about some of those fears, if my grandmother had diabetes, I'm more than likely to get diabetes. If my grandfather had a heart attack, gosh, I'm probably going to have that heart attack as well. So it's really-

Mary Leonard: Oh, interesting. Yes.

Linda Ruschau: Yes, it was fascinating. So it's really a matter of educating the entire family unit about hereditary diseases and how things are passed on and helping, for example ... The grandmother may not be fluent in English, so you need the granddaughter or the grandson to help translate and explain that condition to the grandmother. It's really, again, providing those tools and speaking to those patient types in the culture, in the visuals, in the imagery, everything that brings it to life and makes it feel comfortable for them to talk about.

Mary Leonard: It allows them to feel seen, to feel heard. It goes back to if they're feeling intimidated or stressed out or overwhelmed, thinking about it from a cultural competency perspective and making sure that you're making them feel comfortable from the beginning, from the get go.

Linda Ruschau: Yes, absolutely.

Mary Leonard: I think that's a great key learning right there. I think, similarly, when we're looking at folks who live in underserved communities or low health literacy populations. One of the key concerns cited in the survey was not being able to understand the terminology that a healthcare provider would use during a visit, or potentially being confused about a condition or a treatment. Thinking about what could some of those opportunities look like to avoid confusion during that HCP patient dialogue. What do you think are some opportunities there just to really help with that confusion that could take place?

Linda Ruschau: Sure. This is where I have empathy for all my fellow marketers out there, because I think anyone who's been in any type of healthcare product marketing knows that what you wanted to say at the start of your message, once it came back to you after legal approval and disclaimers were included, it's not at all what I wanted to say. 

But that's why it's so important to truly find those opportunities to deliver the content at a level that the patient can understand.

For example, we provide a lot of unbranded educational content. We write that at a sixth grade level. That's not to insult different cultures. It means everyone's ability to process that information is different.

Let's also add back some of those stats that we spoke about earlier, that you're already feeling anxious and confused and intimidated. That's when we really have to boil it down to make it super simple and easy to understand.
I'll also add that hearing the message once doesn't cut it. There's a lot of different studies as to how many times people have to hear a message before they can process it. I think the latest data is seven. So understanding, again, you have to plant those seeds in other vehicles. But going back, I feel like a broken record here, but delivering content that is easy to process, easy to be understood at the right, actionable time in a trusted environment is really what is going to break through all that clutter.

Mary Leonard: And having it feel personalized for them-

Linda Ruschau: Yes, yes.

Mary Leonard: ... given their unique health situation-

Linda Ruschau: Correct.

Mary Leonard: ... and the relationship they have with their doctor. Yeah. I think it's so important for our listeners, many of whom are OTC marketers, to think about it from that perspective and all of the different types of people that you're trying to reach.

Linda Ruschau: Yes. Frankly, just by running a message, let's say you're a probiotic or a bulk fiber laxative or a heartburn medication, just by delivering that message in a gastroenterologist office, that's the very first step of giving an example of, okay, I understand you are here because there's something wrong in your gut. So I'm going to deliver a message that's going to help you with that.

Mary Leonard: Yeah, exactly. This has been such a great conversation.

Linda Ruschau: We could talk all day.

Mary Leonard: I want to ask you one final question, and it's about ... We could talk forever, but this is the theme of empowerment. When I was looking at your survey, like collective survey results, it really showed to me that an educated patient is an empowered patient, and an empowered patient can lead to better health outcomes. What did your survey reveal would make patients or consumers feel more empowered-

Linda Ruschau: I love that summary by the way, Mary-

Mary Leonard: ... and how can we do a better job of meeting that?

Linda Ruschau: ... so thank you for that. You're right. It's the old Syms ... If anybody remembers the Syms department stores, an educated consumer is our best consumer. It's the same thing for patients. An educated patient is an empowered patient, and information is power.

By and large, all of the study questions, no matter how we sliced it and diced it, patients trust and view their healthcare provider as a key source of trusted information. So leverage that power to be that source of information that patients can trust by placing your messaging in the physician's office. They are still, and I think for many years to come, will be the undisputed trusted authority for healthcare, and marketers are missing the mark if they're not tapping into that channel. Leveraging that channel enables the brands to reach their target consumers with that pinpointed, highly valuable, customized, personalized messaging that we're all seeking, both as consumers and in marketers when it's going to be top of mind, and that your messaging can really empower those patients.

Ultimately, isn't that what we all want? We're all in business, but we want to deliver better health outcomes. That's why we're in this industry. It's what gets us up collectively every day knowing that we're making a difference in people's healthcare. By helping patients take action and empowering them with the right message, we are ultimately not just driving better healthcare, we're also delivering great business results back to the brand purchases.

Mary Leonard: Absolutely. Well, you gave us so much to think about today, Linda. I really, really appreciate your time, your insights. I love the conversation. I think it really underscored the importance of education to drive that empowerment and informed decision-making that we all want for consumers and for patients. I think all of us across the healthcare industry have an opportunity to connect with consumers along their individual journey. We talked so much about that personalized healthcare aspect and these moments in time that are really critical to build trust. So thinking about whether it's in the doctor's office or a child's bedside or in the store aisle or online, that's a call to action for all of us to continue to meet consumers and patients where they are during these moments of care.

Linda Ruschau: It was a true pleasure.

Mary Leonard: So thank you again-

Linda Ruschau: Always great to see you, Mary, and-

Mary Leonard: ... for being here with us.

Linda Ruschau: ... you know how much we like CHPA. Thank you for having me.

Mary Leonard: Oh, absolutely. To our listeners, thank you for joining us today. You can learn more about the PatientPoint Confidence Index on their website at

Again, I am Mary Leonard. I'm the Executive Director of the Health in Hand Foundation signing off. Have a great rest of your day.

Announcer: Thank you for joining us here at CHPA Chat. For more information and to hear our entire catalog of shows, please visit


Mary Leonard Headshot in black dress
Executive Director, Health in Hand Foundation


Linda Ruschau Headshot
Linda Ruschau
Chief Client Officer, PatientPoint

The views expressed in this podcast are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

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