Speaking to the Whole Patient

Raj Amin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, HealthiNation; previously Vice President of Business Development, N2 Broadband; member, POZEN Digital Advisory Board

 

Patients have become key constituents in their own care decisions, a trend that is only going to accelerate especially as the digital landscape continues to provide more information to empower and educate.  The good news is there are a variety of opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to be trusted partners with patients as they address their health, especially in the area of chronic conditions.  But, if these patients are going to accept help from pharma, it's critical that marketers step back and take a “whole patient” view of the issues and reassess how they expect to be part of the solution.

Doctors are reporting more frequently that patients are coming in prepared with real questions based on good information.  The best doctors are embracing this trend and are engaging in a real dialogue with patients about their personal needs and the information a patient brings to the table.  In fact, as the overall healthcare system begins to embrace some of the recent legislation in the broader care delivery sector, my hope is this will add fuel to the fire.  In this broader context, pharma companies have an opportunity to enable services that truly impact outcomes, drive business success and make a difference in patients' lives.

The expectation of quality and the need to speak to the whole patient

In recent decades, pharma has been part of the educational process for conditions with limited success.  It would be difficult to find any pharma-owned websites that rank within the top 50 websites in health.  In my opinion, there are a few reasons for this.  Many patients truly do not trust information that comes directly from pharma and this isn't easy to change.  Every time there has been a cover up of research information that hits the news, it's another hit to consumer trust.  Beyond this, the regulatory requirements for pharma usually make it difficult to create information that is as effective as it could be.  Frankly, regulatory groups can have the tendency to take the most risk-averse approach since they often see themselves as the voice that must save the company from taking any risk.  This is a difficult problem to solve and not one I will dig into here.  Another factor is the focus on most strategies on closing a patient into its CRM funnel.  While this is an important goal, undue focus on this goal detracts from the information that could be provided to service the patient in a meaningful way.

There are certainly some good investments in content for these sites that I've seen, but many of these are “bolted on” and don't reflect the quality levels that you need to compete for time.  Today there are so many choices for consumers to get information, therefore both the quality of the content and the relevance to a patient have to be superb for them to stay and engage.  If this can be done right, and potentially with the right partners at the table, there is no reason why a brand could not start to achieve “organic” activity based on natural traffic and referrals.  A focus on the “whole patient” is required to create a true audience that will consider brands a welcome passenger on their journey, rather than just a sign on the highway.

Opportunities for pharma to serve the whole patient

The good news is that there are a lot of opportunities to provide real support and guidance to patients.  It must begin with a blank slate and a keen understanding of the patient.  Really, it needs to start by forgetting that you have a product to sell.  Then you can think about the following areas:

  • Quality and format of content.  As brand strategies are built to engage a particular audience the quality and format of the content is critical.  Increasingly, audiences are consuming videos to learn and be entertained in digital environments, so companies should be thinking of their brands in the same fashion, by integrating video front and center in the experience.  While “patient testimonials” can be relevant, they really need to be central to the broader information being presented.  If lifestyle choices can help a patient, create video content that helps them take steps, or partner with an independent content provider to get this content into the experience.  If you choose to engage the audience with emotion to make an impact, make sure your storytelling is truly impactful and the topic warrants this approach.  There is nothing worse than trying to watch an overly dramatic video about a condition that's just not that dramatic.
  • Serve a number of needs.  Everyone is different and they will engage with different elements of information depending on their interests and where they are in their journey.  Some may be in need of lifestyle information, others may want in depth treatment specifics for your product, and others may be learning about the condition itself.  Offer information and tools that can be helpful to various needs of the audience.
  • Empower the patient/HCP discussion.  Digital and mobile tools can be utilized now to provide discussion aids, but they need to be easy to use and ideally customized to the specific patient. Personalization is expected in today's digital world so a “one size fits all” approach isn't as compelling.  If the patient provides some input, could you offer something more customized to that patient's needs?   Can you “gamify” the process of providing information about your chronic condition and discussing it with your HCP?
  • Launch, learn, evolve.  One thing we know about the digital environment is that you need to put something out there and evolve it based on what you learn.  Putting more focus in the post-launch iterations is required to really think digital.  If marketers think they are done when launch day arrives, they completely miss the point.  That really is the beginning and there should be significant iterations planned within the first six months of a consumer launch to hone the value proposition and expand from the interactions that are working best.

Overall, there is tremendous opportunity for pharma to leverage digital capabilities to build new and deeper relationships with patients and doctors.  When looking at overall inefficiencies in the media mix, digital can provide powerful tools that foster long-term relationships with your customers.  POZEN is taking an innovative approach to developing the company's digital strategy by bringing together thought leaders from disciplines beyond the healthcare industry to learn best practices for engaging with consumers in the digital space.  With digital at the core, and a mindset that looks at the patient first, and sales second, pharma can be seen as a valued partner by customers who will welcome the help.  If done right, you'll earn real credibility for helping the patient with all their needs and build a relationship that will affect your bottom line.

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