Core Exchange: What Women Want from their Healthcare Providers

doctor talking to patient pointing at chart

Research suggests “the busy household CEO” needs a better patient experience – both online and in-person. Listen to learn more.

Episode 2: Female Healthcare Buyers

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to

Get the Klein & Partners Study here.

  • Core Exchange | Female Healthcare Buyers

Episode Transcript:

Ward Alles: Welcome to the Core Exchange, a healthcare marketing podcast. I’m Ward Alles, President here at Core Creative, and this week we welcome Rob Klein, from Klein and Partners. You’re in Chicago, right?

Rob Klein: Yes, I am.

Ward Alles: Well, welcome. And thanks for joining us.

Rob Klein: Oh, thank you, Ward. My pleasure.

Ward Alles: We’re also joined by Angi Krueger, Vice President of Marketing at Core. Welcome, Angi.

Angi Krueger: Thanks, Ward. We just had a great session. We’re here at the Tri-State conference for Healthcare Marketing, and you just did a great presentation on women’s viewpoints, about healthcare and digital healthcare behavior.

Rob Klien: Oh, thank you.

Ward Alles: My biggest take away, Rob, was there is this big need to build relationships with women because they’re so busy. They’re incredibly busy people. Let me just ask a couple personal questions about you first.

Rob Klein: Sure.

Ward Alles: What is your why? Your purpose? Your mission in life behind Klein and Partners?

Rob Klein: I think growing up with my mom, she really taught me the value of words can be so healing, or words can be so hurtful. She taught me the power of communication, and how important it was between two people to communicate clearly and caring, and lovingly. Growing up, I’ve always been fascinated by why does one ad communicate well with consumers, and another one doesn’t. Why does one brand seem to connect with people and another brand is more just a product? I actually have a Master’s degree in advertising from Michigan State. I wanted to be able to understand, in my business as a market researcher, I actually view myself as, I’m the conduit between what consumers want and what brands should give them. I’m the voice of the customer. I take what I learn from them to my clients to say, “This is what people are saying. You need to listen. If you want to be a strong brand and create a relationship, not just a transaction, here’s what you need to do.”

Ward Alles: That was certainly a big takeaway that I just received from the presentation being a participant and listener myself. That need to create that relationship with that audience. What were you hoping to find out with this particular research about women in today’s climate in healthcare?

Rob Klein: I think the reason I decided to do this study this year, is over the past couple of years, I’ve been doing more and more focus groups with women to understand journey mapping. How do they make decisions? What are their experiences that they want to have, that maybe they’re not having? And the more and more I did focus groups, and the stories that I heard … There were times that it almost made you want to cry when you heard the pain in their voice about how rushed they are, and that if they break down, the whole household breaks down. They have to be healthy, yet they don’t have time to take care of themselves because they’re caring for a sick husband, or sick children, and they’ve got to go to work. The number one word I hear from women focus groups is, “I feel rushed.”

Angi Krueger: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. That, what you just described, I have to say, I definitely feel that way myself in a lot of situations. You have to think about the rest of your family first, and we’re all trying to make sure our kids get to camp on time, or to practice on time, and still try to get to work on time. Meet all those needs. Healthcare needs are so important, we have to make sure we do take time for ourselves, and I totally admit that it comes last for me, too.

Rob Klein: Sure. Rushed is the new word. We have to understand and emphasize within healthcare. How do we create an experience that removes that rushed feeling? Women say to me in focus groups, “I’m so rushed everywhere I go. Why is it … Why can’t I have 20 minutes with my doctor, alone, without the kids screaming, without having the doctor wanting to leave the room? Can’t I have 20 minutes? I put myself last. If I go to the doctor, I’m not kidding. I’m really sick. They need to take me seriously. I just want 20 minutes of me time. Is that too much to ask of my healthcare provider?” I don’t think it is. But, they’re feeling that they’re not getting it.

Ward Alles: That’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s so necessary to address and put ourselves in the shoes of that consumer, that person who’s a human being on the other end, crying out for help. She’s so rushed, so busy.

Angi Krueger: You said something in the presentation, just a few minutes ago, that I wrote down as a quote because I thought it was fantastic. You said, “In healthcare, if they’re coming to you, they’re probably having a bad day. And yet, we’ve built our systems and processes around us.” As healthcare marketers, we’re looking at it from the wrong perspective.

Ward Alles: We’ve got to get that fixed in a couple of different places. In person, and online. Maybe give us a few ideas from your research, you’re talking a lot about “in person,” how you could improve the patient experience, the retailization of healthcare and the competitive set that’s moving in. If you could just speak to that for a few moments.

Rob Klein: Oh, absolutely. Let me give you a digital example, and then I’m going to give you a personal, an in person type of experience. Digitally, women are significantly more likely than men to go online and search information. They also, because they’re the household CEO, they’re most likely to be the schedulers. They’re the one making the appointment, whether it’s for themselves, a husband, or their children. What they want is online scheduling. We’ve been talking about it and talking about it, and when I do focus groups with women, they’re like, “Why can I make a reservation with Open Table for a restaurant, but I have to call and argue with someone at my doctor’s office to make an appointment.” We put barriers in front of women, when we should be building relationships and knocking those barriers down for them.

Angi Krueger: I have to say that online scheduling is absolutely a must. I want to be able to go online and I don’t want to be on hold for five minutes. I don’t have five minutes. Just let me go online, when it’s convenient for me, and make that appointment.

Rob Klein: We need to recognize that they’re busy. They’re doing so many different things, that they put their own health needs last. When they do come in, they are very sick, and they want to be taken seriously, because if you don’t take care of the caregiver, the caregiver can’t take care of other people. We know, also, from our research, women are significantly more likely, not only to be the caregiver for their household, but for parents, maybe grandparents, in-laws. Maybe their husband’s parents. They’re the one making decisions for them every day. How do we design a healthcare experience that eliminates that rushed feeling? From an in person standpoint, when I’m talking about designing an experience, say at an ambulatory care center, women are like, “I want one stop shopping. I want a medical mall. I want to go in, I want a spa like feeling.” For women, smells are important. Sight and sound. The lighting that you put in. The scents that they can smell. Having a nice, warm robe.

Angi Krueger: Yeah. The last thing you want to do is go into a clinical environment that’s cold and not friendly.

Rob Klein: Things that are small touches, that mean everything. They expect you’re going to heal them. Nobody in their right mind would say, “Yeah, that doctor’s nice, but you know what? They do not know one end of the body from the other.” No. We all assume a doctor can take care of us clinically. What they want is that retail experience, and over and over they don’t say retail experience, they say, “I want a spa like experience. I want a destination to go to.”

Ward Alles: Interesting. Another thing that you said earlier that stuck with me, doctor in the doorway-

Rob Klein: Oh, the doorjamb doctor.

Ward Alles: Doorjamb doctor. We’re set up in healthcare to almost do the opposite of what you’re suggesting. That doctor is almost as rushed and she feels that. And that’s a really bad experience for her, isn’t it?

Angi Krueger: Yeah. That’s bad.

Rob Klein: Oh, the doorjamb doctor is a term I coined where women have said, “I have a doctor, they always seem to put their back against the doorjamb with one foot in the hallway, one foot in the room, and that’s when they ask me if I have any questions. I can tell they’ve got to go, that they’re rushed and something’s pulling them away from me. I don’t ask questions.” That’s why a lot of questions aren’t asked. Every time I see that government commercial on TV that talks about, “Here’s the 10 questions that you should ask your doctor.” They’re making the consumer the bad person, that they’re just not asking questions, when it’s the doctor who is not making themselves available through their body language that, “I want to hear the questions you have.”

I’ve heard stories of women telling me that their doctors will say, “This is why you’re here. If you present me with any other symptoms, I will charge you for another visit. You stay on topic here.” Here’s another big difference with men and women. When men go into a doctor’s office, they come in with one thing. They’re very focused. “This hurts, Doc.” And that’s it. They’re in and out. With women, it’s a complex nature. Their emotions are tied to their physicality. And that has to be addressed. You can’t separate those two.

Angi Krueger: Yeah. Even if you can get a guy to go to the doctor, I know for my husband specifically, I have to basically make him go because he’s not gonna go unless something is wrong.

Rob Klein: And yet doctors are like, “Just tell me what body part hurts.” That could be driving stress at home, or emotions. To understand the interconnectivity between physical and emotional, is so critical. Doctors are not trained to really understand that. That’s a big miss in terms of building a relationship. Guys might be more transactional oriented, women want a relationship, not a transaction. They want a person, that caregiver, to look them in the eye. To sit down, just sitting down versus standing, makes all the difference in the world, because they figure if you pull up a chair, you’re committed to talking with them.

Angi Krueger: My doctor, specifically, does sit down when I talk with her. However, she’s a female doctor, but I think that’s actually an interesting observation.

Rob Klein: All the body language that we know inherently but we don’t think about, is absolutely critical to women in a healthcare setting.

Ward Alles: It goes back to showing how much you care, right. And as you said, leaning in. What’s interesting too, is your data that said women really appreciate authentic and real life changing stories in healthcare. They’re more apt to believe advertising, if you will, in the form of storytelling, because they can relate and maybe feel along with the story that’s being shown.

Rob Klein: Yeah. Guys are more into stats or figures and facts. Women want to see themselves in that relationship that’s happening on the screen. They like when they see a woman talking with the doctor. And I’ll tell you, I’ve even tested, if the doctor in the commercial is taller, if the woman is sitting and the doctor is taller, there is a submission, a submissive type of reaction that women have, “No, I don’t like that.” They want the doctor and the patients head to be at the same height, or the doctor’s even lower.

Ward Alles: Interesting.

Rob Klein: Women react to that very positively because it’s saying, “I need to be in control because I’m feeling out of control with my body right now.”

Angi Krueger: I can see that. I never really thought of it that way.

Ward Alles: You talk so much about the need to bring family into the room, and it’s a team caregiving situation, I thought that was an interesting point about how women want to feel like the family can be part of the discussion.

Rob Klein: That’s absolutely critical to when women come to healthcare, family often comes with them. Especially if it’s a more serious situation. If it’s just maybe a primary care or an outpatient, a lot of times the women are bringing the children with them. What are you doing to occupy those children and help them? If you think about it, I remember recently a woman said, “Can you imagine? I’m trying to get undressed for some type of physical exam, and I’ve got my three year old screaming and I’m here almost naked. That doesn’t happen to my husband. Why can’t you understand that and help me with my children? Give me that 20 minutes.”

Ward Alles: Right. Right.

Angi Krueger: You just have to be a little more accommodating.

Ward Alles: Healthcare marketers, that marketing department, they can only address so much. A lot of this needs to be fixed operationally and yet, healthcare marketers or executives within the healthcare system need to be pointing these things out within operations. And leading the system to better solutions. Then you can market a better patient experience and it’ll be true. You don’t want to say something that’s not true. Those healthcare marketers have a lot on their plates, and they have a lot of messages that they’re trying to control, but they can’t necessarily control operations. Have you had any conversations about what it looks like to fix things internally? Do you have any advice for those healthcare marketers who are trying to lead the charge and really change the experience for patients?

Rob Klein: We don’t have enough time for all of that, but I will tell you, the most frustrating thing for healthcare marketers, I had the real opportunity in a prior … Before I started my own company, I worked at a research firm and Procter and Gamble was our largest client, so I spent a lot of time at P&G in Cincinnati on how they do marketing. Healthcare is the only industry where marketers don’t have responsibility for all four Ps. Remember our four Ps, product, price, place, and promotion. We barely have responsibility for promotion. We don’t have control over the other three. Proctor and Gamble, the marketing person, which they call a brand manager, if they decide to research that Tide should come in a green box and not an orange box, they have line authority to go and tell operations, “You’re going to change and make Tide look this way, or do this, or have this new ingredient.” And the line says, “Yes.” They have responsibility.

We are the only industry where marketing is relegated to one P. I actually brought that up at a conference one, to a panel of CEOs, and they said to me, and I quote, “If you think I’m going to let marketing dictate how much we pay physicians, you got another thing coming.” That’s a challenge in our industry, that we don’t have as much responsibility as we should. I will say that with the advent now of journey mapping and experience managers coming in, that are part of marketing, we are starting to take … We are starting to wrestle away some of the operations elements of creating an experience. But you’re right, there’s some bigger things. Creating an online scheduler, for example. That’s a big issue. A lot of times that is housed in IT, and IT and marketing often, as you know, they butt heads, quite a bit. IT doesn’t realize that they’re brand managers, too. They think they’re techy, but they’re brand managers because they’re creating things that help foster the relationship building, but they don’t see themselves that way.

Angi Krueger: No. They definitely are.

Ward Alles: It’s time for healthcare to wake up, is maybe the gentlest way to say it, but it seems a little harsh. The competition is coming in so fast and furious, from the world of retail, whether it’s Target or CVS, then you’ve got Amazon coming in, as you pointed out in your presentation. Now is the time to get this right, right?

Rob Klein: Oh, absolutely. I even have it on my signature on my email, “Retail has learned healthcare faster than healthcare has learned retail.” We are looking at competition as other hospitals, other doctors offices, while the true innovation is happening to us, not by us. What’s sneaking up is a CVS, or other retailers, because they’ve learned healthcare. They already know retail. If I’m in primary or urgent care, I’m going to be very nervous about CVS. That’s the true competition of the future, not another doctor’s office, or another urgent care center that maybe popped up two blocks away from ours. I’m more concerned what a CVS or a Walgreens, or a WalMart, those are category busters.

Ward Alles: That busy CEO, that female who is purchasing, making the buying decisions of healthcare, a lot of those same women are in the healthcare marketing role, and they’ve got that responsibility on their plate, too, to create those great experiences for their fellow women out there. They’ve got a lot on their plates, don’t they? We need to come alongside and help them out.

Angi Krueger: Yes, you do. No, I couldn’t agree more. That is so true. As healthcare marketers, we definitely have to think in those terms. And just use yourself as an example. Put yourself in the shoes of that patient. What would you expect? What do you want?

Ward Alles: Your research has done a great job of pointing out the opportunities, some weaknesses in the system and things that can be fixed. It’s very helpful to have somebody like you asking those tough questions, and helping our audience find out how they can improve the experience for women, and all patients. Thank you, Rob, for your time-

Angi Krueger: Yeah, thanks, Rob.

Ward Alles: And the research that you’ve done. You’ve been doing it awhile.

Rob Klein: 35 years now.

Ward Alles: Okay. We gotta keep taking our cues from you. Keep going, buddy.

Angi Krueger: Yes, keep going.

Ward Alles: Rob, thank you for joining us.

Angi Krueger: Thank you.

Ward Alles: I think you can get the information from your study if you come to our website at

Angi Krueger: Yep, we’ll have it in a link in the transcript.

Ward Alles: We really thank you for your time. There’s a lot of good information in there.

Angi Krueger: Thanks so much.

Ward Alles: Thank you, again.


Angi Krueger is the Vice President of Marketing at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.

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