At long last, it has arrived. No, not your Amazon package—it’s your doctor’s appointment. Whether it’s an annual exam or an appointment with a specialist that took weeks or months to secure, appointment anticipation brings about several different feelings and behaviors for patients.


Above the surface, patients can rationalize why they feel or behave a certain way, but below the surface, most of their behaviors are automatic, uncensored and instinctual. The behaviors on autopilot are known as cognitive biases. It’s important for marketers to understand which cognitive biases are driving patient behavior so that marketing efforts are orchestrated as a strategic response to activate or mitigate each cognitive bias to meet behavioral and business objectives.


We researched cognitive biases among patients in five global markets to understand key similarities and differences. One such bias we dug into is confirmation bias, which provides insight into how our preconceived expectations or preferences influence our decision-making in new or ambiguous situations. For example, imagine that a person holds the belief that tall people are athletic. Whenever they encounter people that are both tall and athletic, they place greater importance on evidence that supports what they already believe, and discount examples that don’t.


In our research, we examined the level of preparedness that patients in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany and Italy typically exhibit when going into a doctor’s appointment and whether this could be influenced by confirmation bias. Organically, patients in Germany, Canada and the U.S. have a higher belief in preparedness before an appointment than the more “laissez-faire” patients in the U.K. and Italy. But, if they first were asked to write a couple of sentences about why patients should go to the doctor’s appointment prepared to discuss their medication preferences, Canadian, American and German patients showed statically significant  increases in their responses about their own behavior - Canadian patients were 5% more likely, U.S. patients were 7% more likely and U.K. patients were 14% more likely to agree that they should prepare for that discussion with the doctor. This tells us that these markets are more sensitive to confirmation bias than Italy and Germany, and if they are provided with preconceived expectations or preferences, they are inclined to change their beliefs and behavior!


If you’re a marketer in the U.S., Canada, or U.K., then confirmation bias is active among patients in your market, and in order to play into this bias you must:

  • Define your brand’s behavioral objectives for patients. (For example, have patients request a treatment at the doctor’s office.)
  • Ideate methods to instill preconceived expectations among patients that reinforce or support the behavior you desire. (For example, prompt patients to rationalize a treatment choice.)
  • Test messaging, creative and tactical applications. (For example, provide patients with a doctor discussion guide template where they input three reasons why they would benefit from a certain treatment.)

In the end, not all patients or markets are created equal. For example, if we want to ensure that patients discuss their medication preferences with their HCPs, we can use confirmation bias in some markets to influence this behavior, but not in others. Factors such as prevailing cultural norms may predispose some patients to cognitive biases. Overall, though, deciphering the cognitive biases that are at play across markets can help marketers create a global strategy that plays into or combats patients’ instinctual behaviors and helps them meet their marketing goals.