I posed this question to a classroom of students: You have severe heart disease, the number one killer in the USA. You have the choice of two surgeons to fix* your heart.  Surgeon 1 is world renown heart surgeon but also an jerk who doesn’t care anything about his patients. Surgeon 2 is a average surgeon but he really cares about the people he sees. Which one do you choose.

Over half of the students chose Surgeon 2. Now the obvious problems with this “survey” aside, it at least suggests that part of what people are buying when they go to the hospital is not health care but health concern. You and your family want to know that everything is being done to save you.

Even, it seems, if one doctor giving it his all to save you actually isn’t as good as another doctor giving you the bear minimum. Many students still wanted the one giving his all, because I would guess, giving it his all is the product.

Now, I will qualify this by saying several of the students simply refused to believe that the jerk surgeon could actually be that good. “He can’t be the best if he doesn’t care for his patients,” so perhaps their is some plausibility bias here.

Thinking of health concern as the product is similar to the Hansonian notion of health signaling. Except here its not information that we’re after. In my thinking people are consuming the concern directly. They feel better when people show they care. Similarly your spouse might know you care, but he or she still wants you to show you care because he or she consumes displays of affection directly.



* I did specify how the heart was to be fixed but it didn’t seem to bother anyone.