How To | Financial Leadership

Drive behavioral change in your surgeons with the concept of 'social proof'

How To | Financial Leadership

Drive behavioral change in your surgeons with the concept of 'social proof'


Joseph A. Jackson

  • The psychological principle of social proof states that people are more likely to do something when they see others doing it.
  • Healthcare finance leaders can leverage social proof in efforts to convince surgeons of the need to lower the cost of physician preference items (PPI) such as implants.
  • Specific approaches include highlighting how similar organizations are tackling the issue of PPI costs.

Social proof is a critical psychological principle that savvy hospital administrators can use to solve complex business issues and dramatically increase their organization's operating performance.

The principle simply states that people are more likely to do something when they see others doing it. For instance, after going to check out a new restaurant, customers are more prone to sit down and eat if they see others in the restaurant, versus if it’s empty.

If leveraged effectively, social proof can be invaluable for addressing an all-too common problem for healthcare providers: high costs of physician preference items (PPI). The following tactics can help you improve key relationships, gain trust and turbo-charge the performance of your organization.

Social proof based on other people or organizations

Showing what other people are doing or saying is the most common way to incorporate social proof. In healthcare, for example, providers frequently use patient satisfaction scores or testimonials in marketing campaigns.

The above example can boost patient volume, but such a tactic also can help you influence a physician or co-worker.

For instance, when discussing efforts to reduce PPI costs, consolidate products or establish a demand-matching program, you might hear all the reasons why such initiatives don't work. However, you should be able to find case studies or industry articles highlighting successful programs at hospitals that are similar to yours.

Let’s use implants as an example. Showcasing examples of successes at similar hospitals will eventually lead doubting physicians or co-workers to ask themselves, "If these other hospitals have implemented an implant cost management program effectively, why can't we?" 

Of course, you need to be strategic when using this type of social proof. For example, you should think twice about firing off an article to a surgeon immediately following a "spirited" discussion in the physician's lounge. But when used properly, illustrative citations of success at other hospitals can give you the small opening you need to change a key colleague’s mind.

Social proof based on expertise

This form of social proof involves showing approval or validation of your plan from credible sources. If you are trying to spur a change such as consolidation of implantable products or associated vendors, consider that sources such as the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons often publish studies and peer-reviewed articles about clinical efficacy.

In tandem with information on efficacy, robust competitive-pricing intelligence is critical to convince a physician or manufacturer that a reduced unit cost is warranted.

In the case of implants, vendors or internal stakeholders may argue that your hospital is already getting the best price in the area. Without competitive-pricing intelligence from a credible source, that statement is difficult to refute. When leveraged correctly, authoritative data on what other hospitals are paying for the same implant is persuasive.

Well-vetted benchmarking reports — available through subscription-based third-party software platforms — can help by highlighting various price points from other hospitals. If such sources show that a preponderance of hospitals are paying lower prices than your hospital for the same implants, you'll be using social proof to your advantage.

Social proof based on research and results

Influencing individual surgeons via social proof is a great start. However, imagine how much more you could accomplish — beyond cost savings — if you could exert a strong, positive influence on most or even all surgeons on staff? Such relationships can foster significant collaborative opportunities (for example, establishing a joint venture in a new ambulatory surgery center) .

One viable approach is to regularly share savings reports along with quality metrics to illustrate that high-quality patient care is compatible with effective cost management. A worthwhile accompanying tactic is to consistently re-benchmark your hospital's unit costs against those of other hospitals.

When surgeons see that care quality and outcomes are not casualties of the cost reduction effort, they inevitably will think two things: "The cost reduction program is working," and perhaps even more importantly, "I can trust this administrator."

About the Author

Joseph A. Jackson

is managing director, Strategic Healthcare Services, Atlanta (jjackson@shs.us.com).

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