Healthcare communications: Time to think differently with patient centricity

pharmafile | June 27, 2019 | Feature | Business Services, Manufacturing and Production, Medical Communications, Research and Development, Sales and Marketing Spink, patient centricity, pharma 

Patient centricity, derived from the NHS-driven thinking “no decision about me, without me”, has been adopted by pharma to understand their patients better, to make them part of the journey and to achieve better patient outcomes overall. As with most industries, the root to its success currently lies within patient data.

When we talk about collecting patient data, we think of numbers and statistics, which contribute to drug discovery and prognosis. However, what we sometimes fail to consider is how data discovery could mean gaining rich information and deep insight. This untapped information can open up valuable insight into a patient’s life and reveal their behaviours and emotions. Patient centricity is still a practice which is yet to be clearly defined in pharma, but it is without doubt that medical and clinical data alone will not fulfil the desire to be patient-centric. There is a need to adopt a two-way conversation with patients to understand them better and be empathetic. Patient communications will be key to patient centricity.

Collaborating for better outcomes

Communication professionals have been trying to delve into the mindset of patients for many years to gain a better understanding of their lives, what drives them and how they interact with brands. There was a time when patients were reluctant to share their own personal data; however, through more effective use of communications and clarification on why the healthcare sector want their data, patients have been much more willing to share their insights via surveys, focus groups and interviews. This improvement in patient engagement is a result of the patient understanding pharma’s move to be more patient-centric and understanding that they can have more control over their own health by co-operating. However, has not yet been put in to practice widely across the industry yet.

If we were to look at supercharging the data we have available, artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to play a significant part in drug discovery, but surely this can be applied to patient lifestyle data too? Currently, AI allows clinicians and researchers to input data into specific algorithms to determine the best drug or treatment option for the patient. If we were to use the insights we have on patients, which truly represent a cancer patient’s emotions or a HIV patient’s challenges, and apply this to a machine learning tool such as AI, we could build lifelike profiles of patients to deliver personalised communications, which not only resonate, but bring them closer to the healthcare provider and strengthens their relationship.

When considering your communication routes and touch points with a patient, have you ever noticed that marketing companies ask you how you want to be contacted? Email, SMS, direct mail? They may also know how you like to shop or what you may want to buy based on the data you give them? Their systems are incredibly intelligent and hold a lot of your personal information, but do you know as much about your patients and are you asking the right questions?

Over the past few years, smart watches and fitness trackers have significantly increased in sales, as people have become more health conscious and want better control over their own health. Traditionally, the simplicity of tracking someone’s steps would allow the user to understand how many calories they were burning or the speed of their heart rate. Fast forward a few years and wearable health tech now has the ability to record almost as much data as a GP could and more. Recently we have seen non-invasive blood glucose monitors, blood pressure watches, heart disease vests and many more.

GPs around the UK are starting to use this data to analyse their patients’ wellbeing much more effectively, in particular those living with diabetes. Patients are able to take their own data to their diabetes nurse for analysis and as of April 2019, NHS England are expecting all CCGs to make blood glucose monitoring devices available to eligible patients.

Traditional communications campaigns are built on patient data, which may include their purchase behaviour, their demographic, their occupation, age, gender and so forth, but with a wealth of accessible personal data such as sleep patterns, heart rate, moods and blood sugar levels, comms teams can start to build clearer profiles and understand the patient’s behaviours more accurately. Pharma companies can reach patients at the right time of day when it really matters, and this could mean understanding when a patient is more engaged or when they might need support. This is a novel time for pharma comms and presents a significant opportunity for the industry to accelerate its vision to be patient-centric.

Helping your patients understand your mission

As the pharma world focuses on being more patient-centric, it’s time to bring your patients on your journey and help them understand what you want to achieve. Better communication with patients is a necessity for genuine partnerships to form. If you can demonstrate the outcomes of your work to your patients, you’ll find a willingness from them to share the information you need. 

Now patients are beginning to feel more in control of their healthcare, what if you were to take it one step further and put them in the driving seat?

Time to challenge the status quo

Patient centricity does not just mean listening to the patient – it also means giving them a voice. At the time when beta interferon drugs for multiple sclerosis (MS) were in the process of being reviewed by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and a negative outcome was anticipated, Spink, a UK based healthcare communications agency, were recruited to help influence the appraisal and end the postcode lottery for treatment for MS patients. 

Undoubtedly a huge task, Spink devised a campaign to empower and mobilise those persons diagnosed with MS. Making the patient central to the campaign and giving a voice to over 1,000 MS sufferers, who had all been refused funding for treatment, proved to be a powerful and emotive approach. Spink recruited MPs, clinicians and patient organisations to support the ‘Action for Access’ patient-driven campaign and secured endless engaging national and regional patient interviews across broadcast and print media. The patient voice was influential enough for NICE to reverse their decision and strike up an innovative shared funding scheme:   

  • Give patients a voice to get access to the treatment they need by providing a platform
  • Ensure educational materials are highly targeted by developing deep insights into lifestyle in addition to the right questions regarding health
  • Create a safe community for patients to share their experience of your treatment and their condition with like-minded patients

In a digital age, it’s easy to get caught up in data to track and analyse patients’ disease progression and response to treatments. However, increased emphasis on more personal patient profiling and gaining a deeper understanding of lifestyle influences, could result in greater patient engagement, patient mobilisation and treatment outcomes. Marketing spend could be more targeted, communications campaigns more measurable and strategic planning could be more focused.

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