The Demographics of Health Care

How Do Consumers Budget for Its Costs, and How Do They React When They Get Sick?

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You might think that , averaged across all populations, disease would be pretty evenly distributed.

You would be wrong.

As grim as it is to say this, for health-care marketers, knowing where people are sick is a useful data point. As part of the American Consumer Project, we asked GfKMRI to run their 25,000 household survey data through the Patchwork Nation segments. We then developed this cheery map of disease prevalence. As you can see, certain areas -- which represent places where certain consumer segments are dominant -- are more prone to certain kinds of illnesses. But more important is what the residents there do when they get sick. This is critical for health-care marketers, clearly, but also for other sectors because the increasing dollars being spent on health-care aren't being spent on other products. IMS Health recently reported that spending on medicine rose to $320 billion in 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health-related categories such as insurance, medications and supplies take up 6.6% of total spending, up from 5.4% in 2000. Millennials in their 20s are spending a whopping 78% more than the baby boomers did when they were in their 20s.

Diseases by County

Where do people get sick? We worked with GfKMRI to see how the Patchwork Nation county types skew in terms of prevalence of major illnesses.

Source: GfKMRI
County Type:

We'll look at one example but you can also download a more complete dataset to play with on your own. For an overview of the county types and the kinds of consumers they represent, you should meet our families.

For instance, residents of counties such as East Baton Rouge, La., in the "Minority Central" segment are more likely than average to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While this disease tends to afflict white Americans more than black Americans, a study funded by GlaxoSmithKline and RTI Health Solutions found a correlation between socioeconomic status and the disease. Those with lower education levels and income were more likely to be afflicted. While consumers in these areas tend to have higher-than average concentrations of blacks, and lower than average groupings of Hispanics, overall they fall into a lower socioeconomic status than our other segments, possibly putting them at higher risk for IBS.

But then what? According to the GfKMRI data, they are also much more likely to use a branded prescription medication than a generic version or a nonprescription remedy. That behavior is particular to this illness. In general this same population mirrors the U.S. average and overwhelmingly agrees that generic medications are as effective as prescriptions brands. According to a survey conducted exclusively for Ad Age by Ipsos Observer, these consumers are also less likely to consider health costs when budgeting yet feel that their costs will increase in the next five years. They're also more likely to research symptoms and cures by asking their doctors about them and are slightly less likely to look up cures themselves on the internet.

Sandra, a 42-year-old single black mother in East Baton Rouge, does both. She's one of the 11 households Ad Age is tracking this year as part of the American Consumer Project. She'll get an ache or pain, or see a pharmaceutical ad on TV and start thinking about aches and pains, and hop on her computer. Her most recent concern was restless leg syndrome, a malady from which she does not suffer, according to her exasperated doctor.

"I do that with probably any ailment that I have," she says. "I research it first and then when I go into the doctor's office, she would always say, 'Oh, you probably went looking online,' I always research the symptoms and see what it says I might have."

Generational Attitudes
Generational Attitudes

In addition to geographic and behavioral differences, Ad Age partnered with its sibling publication Modern Healthcare to study generational attitudes. The resulting white paper features case studies from marketers as well as profiles of households in the American Consumer Project. In it, we examine the rise of cross-generational care-givers and how different generations want to receive health-care-related marketing messages. Check out the Ad Age /Modern Healthcare White Paper on Generational Attitudes about Health-care.

We'll look at a couple more examples. Obesity, as we know, can lead to many serious health complications. The disorder, which appears widespread at the state-level (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers at least 20% of the population obese in every state except Colorado), has broad swings when layered through segmentation tools such as the Patchwork Nation. Los Angeles county, and others with high Hispanic populations ("Immigration Nation") are 23% less likely than average to be obese, whereas areas such as the rural farming communities in Teton, Mt. are as much as 65% more likely.

Finally, the prevalence of people who have or have had a series of major illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, asthma or heart disease, increases among consumers in areas such as Grayson County, Texas; Lake County, Fla., Leavenworth County, Kan.; and Hampden County, Mass. When you consider that a recent study from the Kaiser Foundation showed just 5% of the population accounts for half of the health-care spending in the U.S., you can see how folks in these areas have an especially oversized impact.

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