Today’s neurologist has countless complex conditions competing for their attention. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine there are more than 600 neurologic diseases. With an average daily patient count of 14-16, most neurologists are likely to see a wide range of disorders.

When faced with this many competing topics, behavioral science tells us that people use shortcuts to navigate. And when they use shortcuts, it shrinks the amount of attention they’re able to give at any point in time, making it even more critical to break through to spotlight new patient needs, new behaviors required to meet those needs, and new therapies that can help.

How can we break through? We can again look to the behavioral sciences for some cues. One core truth is that all humans are emotional. Now, you might think neurologists are the exception but as it turns out, they over-index on emotionality. Consider these recent research findings: 


  • 70% display a strong “need for affect.” In other words, they embrace emotion-inducing situations rather than avoid them.
  • 73% are “maximizers,” meaning that they expend time and effort to ensure they have solved something as best as possible and are giving patients the very best opportunities and outcomes. And they’re exhaustive in this pursuit. So, while attention may be hard to come by, they’re willing to give it freely when needed.
  • 80% are guided by their gut and make decisions at an instinct level. While this decision-making happens quickly and with an emotional lead, neurologists are still measured and rational at the appropriate moment—they exhibit a pattern of post-rationalizing decisions using data and evidence. This makes sense if you consider the noisy digital landscape where we are often reacting, engaging, and making decisions in the span of a few seconds. Those actions don’t happen with a logical, rational thought process. They happen quickly, at an intuitive level.


But here’s the tension: because neurology is a rather complex specialty, category brands believe neurologists need that complexity reflected to them. So, they dial up the data, overuse rational messaging, and avoid leading with emotion at all costs.

We call this the paradox of stereotype. When operating within a stereotype, things end up oversimplified and audiences are mis-engaged—the paradox of which is that instead of simplifying things for people, we end up making things more complex.

The implication? Rampant friction. These approaches make neurologists work even harder to get what they need or to validate those gut-level decisions. From a marketing and communications standpoint, it’s simply too much and it’s overwhelming.

In short: we’re not helping, we’re hurting.

The good news is neurologists are giving us important clues with respect to how we can improve content and experience to resolve that tension. 


  • We know that they welcome emotion, so our content must be emotion-forward. In other words, we need to demonstrate clearly and quickly how our brand and our message aligns with their view of the world, their values, and their mindset. 
  • We know that they have limitless drive, thanks to their “maximizer” tendencies, so our content must be bespoke, responsive, fluid. This is also because every patient is unique and at a different place in their disease progression.
  • We know their gut guides and that this happens rapidly, so our content must be simple. This helps to eliminate frictions and disruptions in navigating the landscape of any given disease state. 


By better understanding the mindsets and behavioral drivers of healthcare professionals, we can improve interactions and, subsequently, patient care. Many HCPs—neurologists included—need mechanisms to bridge the gap from emotional alignment with their patients to action by delivering on patient unmet needs. Aligning pharma understanding with HCP intention is a critical first step.

Source: U.S. Neurologist Pulse Research, July 2021, Syneos Health Communications.

About the Author:

Carolyn Stephenson is SVP of Strategy for Syneos Health Communications. Her unique healthcare perspective is complemented by nearly 20 years of strategy expertise across sectors as varied as retail, financial services and higher education. She has built nationally recognized branding, digital, content and commerce programs for brands like JPMorgan Chase, Nationwide Insurance, EXPRESS, as well as on the agency side with Ologie and SBC Advertising. Her work has been spotlighted in industry publications like Mobile Commerce Daily, Mobile Marketer, and even featured on an NBC reality television show (Fashion Star). But her passion for healthcare is palpable: she’s also a Certified Hormone Specialist and a Precision Nutrition Coach.