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Heroic solutions

Medical comics for paediatric patients are building value for reps and aiding patient education

A superhero with a cape standing triumphantly on a hillMedical representatives have to educate health professionals as well as sell these days. As they're selling to people who have heavy workloads and very little time, even securing appointments can be challenging.

The average amount of time a pharmaceutical rep spends with doctors has gone down; in fact, one in five doctors now refuses to see any sales representatives at all, and returns on sales visits have declined. However, a recent survey indicated that doctors do believe sales representatives to be useful. Evidently there is still an opportunity for pharma to bridge the gap.

Providing a resource that can help healthcare professionals to manage their patients more effectively could help representatives bring true value to their visit and begin to develop an authentic two-way relationship.

There is a crucial need to foster more effective relationships between drug representatives and clinicians better to meet the needs of patients. Dealings should centre on informing healthcare professionals about products and providing educational information. Ultimately, this will benefit patients and enhance the practice of medicine.

This case study examines how one such resource — a series of medical comics aimed at paediatic patients — has been developed and implemented.

Children lack resources
Every day, millions of children worldwide are diagnosed with conditions that even their parents may find difficult to comprehend. Not surprisingly, most children do not understand their medical conditions and associated investigations, procedures and treatments, and are often scared by the hospital environment.

Doctors usually do not have the time or skills to explain medical issues to children and their families in a way that they understand. There is a definite, substantial and unsatisfied need to fill this void and ease the explanation process.

Medication compliance is a critical component of paediatric care, but at least one third of all patients fail to complete relatively short-term treatment regimens. Numerous studies have shown that education increases adherence to medications by increasing understanding: if children are able to understand how a medical condition is affecting their body, they are more likely to appreciate the need for treatment and adhere to their medication.

Prescription non-compliance is also one of the biggest economic challenges for a pharmaceutical company, as each year the industry loses billions of dollars in prescriptions and healthcare costs due to patient non-adherence.

Therefore, physicians appreciate being able to give their patients a resource that will help them remember or understand why they are to take their medication.

Switching the focus to the patient in this way is beneficial for all involved as it boosts adherence to treatment regimes through the increased understanding of disease processes and medications. This in turn improves long term health outcomes as a direct consequence of altered behaviours. 

The lightbulb moment
During their time as doctors, Dr Kim Chilman-Blair and Dr Kate Hersov found that there were no resources pertaining to their health they could give young patients. They quickly realised that this lack of entertaining and 'relatable' information for young people was a worldwide problem. This lightbulb moment led them to envision Medikidz, which would be a resource designed to educate and reassure young patients, as well as to help practitioners disclose and explain a diagnosis.

Upon founding the charity The Medikidz Foundation, Dr Chilman-Blair and Dr Hersov teamed up with a former Marvel graphic novel artist to create a range of comic books. The books, launched in the UK in September 2009, feature five superheroes who explain a range of conditions that can affect children, their families or their friends. The conditions covered include diabetes, asthma, melanoma and leukaemia. The books are peer-reviewed by leading consultants in each respective therapy area and the characters entertain young patients as well as educating them about serious medical issues.

The comic books have found widespread recognition, and have been endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: "It is extremely important that children feel reassured, informed and included during the diagnosis and treatment process, and this initiative should be supported for helping to achieve this." The Medikidz series has also been endorsed by charities such as the American Cancer Society, Epilepsy Foundation America and Allergy UK.

The collaboration with a Marvel graphic artist has given the comics credibility with their target audience: the children. A 14 year-old boy with a chronic illness said: "The characters had big, hilarious personalities, and the illustrations wouldn't have looked out of place on Pixar's drawing boards. More to the point, I learnt a lot from reading them. The language wasn't in the slightest bit condescending, and the larger than life medical superheroes taught me a lot ... making the illness seem 10 times less daunting and, ultimately, [more] manageable."

Authentic partnership
Pharmaceutical companies such as Shire have partnered with Medikidz to provide the comic books to healthcare professionals free of charge, encouraging their sales force to cultivate informative, ethical and professional relations, which can benefit healthcare professionals to provide more effective care to younger patients.

Shire initially partnered with Medikidz with a goal to provide information and education to younger patients. According to Eugene Osei-Bonsu, marketing director of Shire: "There is very little else out there aimed at children of this age group using the right language."

The comic series is being used as a tool allowing doctors to provide their patients with better understanding of their condition right from diagnosis.

Shire started distribution of the ADHD instalment of the series directly to doctors in May 2010 in Ireland and in June in the UK. Although it is early days, so far they have reported 'very positive' feedback from both doctors and their sales teams.

According to Eugene Osei-Bonsu: "The point is that if a lot of people get a better understanding of why and what the disease is through using Medikidz, the more likely they are to take their medication and improve concordance. 

"We have found the books to be a very valuable tool for our sales team to have to show you're adding value and support to physicians in their daily work."

He concluded by saying that: "In the end, physicians are always looking for ways of giving their patients valuable information so that it's easy for them to follow the instructions they give. Having a booklet that is written for that child, and so the child comprehends it, is a great resource and is helping bridge the gap between pharma and physicians, but also between physicians and their patients and that is a win for everyone."

The Author
Dr Kim Chilman-Blair founded the Medikidz Foundation and co-authors the Medikidz comics

To comment on this article, email pm@pmlive.com

17th August 2010

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