Decision making is affected by a set of anchored ideas called biases. Whether they come from emotion or logic, or they happen in a personal or business context, biases influence all human decision-making. 

We’ll be digging into medical biases that influence patient behavior in the healthcare world. Understanding patients’ and our own biases can help validate or kill an idea, setting the tone for healthcare innovation success.

Keen to learn more about biases? Check out our post on 16 cognitive biases that can kill your decision-making.

We take, we make, and we dispose. It’s a chain we need to break now more than ever, and we can start by embracing the circular economy.

What are biases in healthcare?

Because they’re set ideas, biases work as a shortcut to the mind. The things taught when growing up, cultural context and background, and personal preference. All these are elements that shape unconscious trains of thought that impact our daily decisions. 

Biases are a big part of all human organizations – and the scientific community is no exception.

The importance of knowing healthcare biases

Understanding how medical biases work will help you spot them, and spotting them will help minimize the effects of human assumptions when designing new medical solutions.

Recognizing biases in the healthcare innovation process is fundamental to getting outputs that are more accurate at solving the challenge you set out to solve, leading to more objective decision making, instead of emotional or instinctive action-taking.

Understanding the behavioral biases of your patients and customers is the key to ensuring that your solutions and interventions prompt healthy decision-making.

Understanding them will help increase the success of your solutions and interventions because it enables you to design for biased, irrational, and emotional human behavior.

9 behavioral biases in healthcare

1. Availability bias

It’s easy for our brains to get used to a situation, particularly when it repeats itself over time. The more a person gets used to it, the easier this event comes to mind. Availability biases work like this and overweigh the likelihood of an event happening based on beliefs. 

But beliefs don’t represent reality, they are an interpretation of it. Taking this kind of bias into consideration when designing medical solutions helps understand how patients are prone to react.

2. Limited attention bias

Just like the human brain can easily think of the events we’re used to, it drives our focus as well. The level of attention we pay to certain things prevents us from considering choices equally, or even spotting all available ones. Learning about limited attention bias can help observe how a medical process or treatment stands out, because they can be linked to emotional reactions. 

3. Learned helplessness bias

The belief that one has little control over a situation and that no action can improve or change an outcome. In this case, the perception that a disease progression is out of a person’s control may lead to lack of proper monitoring or treatment adherence.

4. Ostriching bias

Medical challenges are not an easy thing to overcome. Sometimes, to avoid the emotional pain, patients close their minds from potential medical issues, tricking themselves into the sensation that there is no possibility of bad news. The notion of ‘burying one’s head in the sand’. Being aware of ostriching effects could lead to earlier disease detection, and even prevent a condition from getting worse. 

5. Overconfidence bias

A series of positive previous experiences can lead to patients being overconfident in their own beliefs and thought knowledge of their disease, despite objective medical evaluations. Overconfidence biases in patients usually stand in the way of preventing or recognizing diseases.

6. Identity bias

People act on the basis of group identities. They place themselves in an “in-group” among others with similar characteristics.

This sense of belonging, or not belonging, can impact the decisions that patients make in regards to seeking, or accepting, medical care.

7. Social influence bias

The traits that make up a person’s identity are also related to the levels of influence that affect this person’s decision-making. Social environments will have more or less impact on a patient depending on their social influence bias.  

When people they feel close to and trust, like friends, family, community members, and doctors, instruct them to take action, they usually listen.

8. Present bias

The idea of how long it takes a solution to impact our lives will also be a deciding factor when it comes to patients making a choice.

A good example of this is enrolling in a fitness program; the long-term commitment and lack of immediate results could influence present biased patients into deciding against it.

9. Scarcity bias

The triggers that make people choose A or B are not only mental, they come from the environment surrounding them too. Scarcity bias represents a chronic lack of resources. Having a chronic lack of resources leads individuals to focus their attention on immediate needs rather than long-term ones. 

A good example of this is that an individual is likely to self-medicate when visiting a doctor has many obstacles (cost, time, access, etc.).

Don't be biased by biases

Knowing the existence and importance of behavioral biases in healthcare innovation shouldn’t have you second guessing all the decisions you make. The goal of scouting and understanding how patients’ minds work is to make informed decisions, eventually landing more accurate results. 

The 9 behavioral biases we mentioned are the ones with common influence on health-related choices. Knowing them, and knowing what triggers your patients will help you design for biased, irrational and emotional human behavior.