Health & Fitness

Understanding family dynamics key when selling health services

Guests follow proceedings during an insurance briefing at a  Nairobi hotel. POHOTO | SALATON NJAU
Guests follow proceedings during an insurance briefing at a Nairobi hotel. POHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

As the local health scene grows especially the private sector, patients are offered numerous alternatives in terms of possible service providers. While the majority are still cash payers whose choices are determined by their budgets to a large extent, some significant proportion have private insurance.

The latter group’s choice of facility may be influenced by the panel of institutions approved by their insurers and depending on their proximity to such facilities and the kind of illness too.

Numerous studies have been done on health seeking behaviours, mostly from a cultural perspective. An evolving aspect of the same is the impact of changing socio-cultural family dynamics in health seeking decision making metrics especially for new clients.

In the traditional African family context, whoever made major family decisions had a say in health seeking behaviours. Raising families was and still is a maternal job due to the time mothers spend with their children. Thus the day to day minor illnesses would be at the mother’s discretion as well as the judgement on what over- the-counter medicines or which clinic to go to.

An observation, however, is that consensus is often not always so easily arrived at and a tie-breaker voice is needed. Many serious illnesses must often have the express input of the male head of the family. These observations are made in reference to a situation seen recently where a family was agonising over which of the 20 or so facilities within proximity they should take their child to.

First time mothers especially are often under “tutelage” from close family and paternal or maternal mothers and decision making on their baby’s health may be influenced by such voices. Here the matriarchs pull the shots when the father is away. This is more so for rural families.

This context though may not apply to all urban families especially those in the upper middle classes socio-economically as the nuclear family influence here is weakened.

Marketing managers of health facilities striving to catch the attention of such clients need to know where, for whom and when to target the advertisements.

The first consideration is that the target must be reached while in a mental frame permitting reception and internalisation of the message. Most often, such messages sink deeper if perceived by the time the illness or symptoms are also running.

A take home note though is that word of mouth is still superior especially if coming from people perceived to be positive influencers.

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