Is there a doctor in the clinic?

Dalibor Šumiga Behavioral marketing/Neuromarketing, Marketing

Ima li doktora u ambulanti - Promosapiens blog

I hope that, while you’re reading this text, I’m already normally walking, eating, drinking and working.
A few days before I started writing this article, my selfie looked like this:

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This photo was taken half an hour after doctors probed through my groin, while I was awake, and reached my heart to repair my heart arrhythmia. 

I wouldn’t suggest giving it a try if you don’t have to… 

The curse of my job, and that is the study of human behavior, is that in some moments, when ignorance is a blessing, I’m too aware of what is happening around me. I’ll share with you a few small details that you may not have even noticed, and show the application of behavioral science in the health care system.


One of the worst things, not only in health care but in life as well, is – waiting. 

Even the illusion of progress itself is motivating.

In the clinic where I had a surgery, although they may not be aware of it, they use a very practical behavioral trick. 

At the entrance, first you go through the triage, then you wait for a while before they instruct you to take the elevator to a certain floor to go to another waiting room. Practically, they just moved you from point A to point B, you still haven’t arrived at your hospital room where you’ll be preparing for surgery, but the very illusion that something is happening reduces the frustration. 

What can further improve the patient experience (and reduce stress and frustration) is if the medical staff tells you in advance what to expect. For example: “You’re just gone through triage, it’s a bit crowded so you’ll wait here for about 20 minutes. After that we send you to the ward where you will wait to be called and given a hospital room.”


Whether small or large, any surgery that is invasive is not a pleasant one. And that’s why real professionals try to distract you from what’s next by talking. The only problem is dentists because no patient can answer questions with his mouth full.

Why does this seemingly banal behavioral intervention work? People have a high surge of dopamine (a hormone in the brain that affects good mood) when they talk about themselves. 

In my case, this behavioral trick doesn’t work. Just before the end of my surgery, there is a process in which the medical staff removes some sort of a tube (if I remember correctly) with which the probes were pulled to the heart. This process is obviously painful and at the moment when it’s necessary to pull it out, a very kind nurse decided to ask me a very personal question to encourage me to talk about myself and forget about the pain. 

My answer to the question (which I don’t even remember) was: “I know what you’re doing…” just as the tear-off followed. 

Like I said, ignorance is sometimes a real blessing… 

Promospaiens blog - ima li doktora u ambulanti


Any surgery also involves a certain amount of sensors that stick to the skin or a certain amount of bandages and patches. 

As a man, this automatically means a very painful depilation when removing them. 

The nurse who was in charge of removing the sensors I was wearing did it the way it is usually done – quickly and painfully. 

To my reaction she said: “I’m sorry, but this is the easiest way…”

Even slightly sedated, the geek inside me had to react: “Actually it’s not… A scientist who suffered life-threatening burns and after going through an every-day painful procedure of removing bandages, has done research that has shown that it’s better to have a lower intensity of pain over a longer period of time than an extremely strong intensity of pain in a short period. 

If you follow behavioral economics, you know that this scientist is Dan Ariely who shared that story with the audience in numerous lectures. 

Promosapiens blog - ima li doktora u ambulanti


Research has shown that the evaluation of a particular experience, whether in a hotel, restaurant or hospital, is based on “peaks” – the most intense emotional moments of an event and the end of the event. 

If you spend your entire vacation in a relatively quiet and comfortable place, but the last day in the parking lot you find that someone broke your rearview mirror, that end will greatly affect your overall experience. 

In the case of my hospital adventure, just before I headed for the elevator, I met a nurse in the hallway, with a mask on her face. But I recognized the eyes, the same ones I saw when they were preparing me for surgery… 

I smiled at her and said: “I recognize those eyes…”

Although she had a mask, I saw that she smiled for who knows how many times in her life and to who knows which patient.

But it was somehow easier for me because I could say “thank you” once again…