Finding patients to speak on camera can be tricky. Agency and pharma marketers need to find relevant and engaging subjects while keeping within strict privacy regulations.

One firm, Studio2253, wants to take all that work off of agencies and pharma teams’ hands. The founders, agency production veteran Michael Rafayko and former in-house pharma marketer Gina Battiste, developed ReelPatient, a service to find and film the right patients, all while staying within the boundaries established by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), the foundation for safeguarding private medical information.

“Every brand has a database of users, but because of HIPAA regulations, brands literally cannot dig into that or turn it over to ad agency or vendor partners and say, ‘Here are a dozen names, just contact them,’” Rafayko said. “We needed to create a situation where patients opted in, where they felt safe and protected.”

Enlisting real patients to offer testimonials has become an even more important element for pharma campaigns as the public increasingly relies on influencers and on fellow patients whose treatment experiences feel authentic. Moreover, with patients starting to take more control of their healthcare experience, seeing others like them talk about a condition or treatment provides that extra level of trust.

The pair say they bring their experience working in pharma, and in navigating med-legal, to bear. Battiste, who previously worked in marketing at Astellas, recalled trying to find patients for one of that company’s marketing campaigns and how daunting a process it was. Pharma companies and agencies often either turn to casting companies or patient advocacy groups to find patients to appear in campaigns, but those options typically come with their own limitations.

“There was a ‘real person’ casting company, but finding people in the rare disease space or internationally was an issue for them,” Rafayko said. “Patient advocacy companies can find patients, too, but their prime directive is to find long-term patient advocates, which makes their process—and the patients they find—much different. Here is one of the biggest challenges in pharma and healthcare marketing, but there weren’t good commercial solutions.”

After leaving Astellas, Battiste teamed up with Rafayko—who has worked in video production at agencies like Digitas, MRPS Health and Leo Burnett—to fill the gap between the casting companies and advocacy groups. Studio2253 can find patients in any disease area and in any part of the world, he added.

Of course, not everyone is comfortable on camera or willing to open up completely. Rafayko said the ReelPatient service goes a step further by finding patients who are engaging.

“Patients are so motivated now. They’re seeking information on social and have access to tons of information across the board; as such, they can really become empowered decision makers,” Battiste said. “Across their journey, patients really crave credible information; they want tools to help them use that information; and they want to hear from others. They want to hear that they are not alone. And other patients can give them hope.”

While the firm can’t share its secret sauce to finding patients, Rafayko can say building its network took about a year and that every patient who’s included has opted in. Studio2253 declined to name its clients, but said one is a major PR agency and another is a project in the narcolepsy area. The firm also said it works with three exclusive pharma and healthcare film/video directors.

The pair conclude that their process promises a “very different experience” than brand managers may be used to.