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Turning healthcare on its head

Efforts to deliver patient-centric care are turning healthcare communications on its head
Turning healthcare on its head

There isn't a drug company out there that wouldn't lay claim to being patient-centric. But making the claim is the easy part. Delivering it is much more challenging. Fortunately, the challenge is a collective responsibility.

Providers, HCPs, payers and policymakers are all united in the cause and are increasingly recognising the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration in developing effective health interventions. And the signs are good. Last month, for example, a new collaborative of UK healthcare organisations outlined plans to assure the increased involvement of patients in decisions about their care. NHS England, NICE and the General Medical Council will collaborate with professional bodies, universities and patient organisations to ensure shared decision-making becomes a reality in everyday clinical practice. The move highlights a growing consensus across Europe that citizen-centric 'co-creation' of services is the only way to deliver efficient, effective and affordable care. The battle for patient-centricity is turning healthcare communications on its head.

Magic moments
There are increasing examples of health interventions that are being developed through patient collaboration - and a growing recognition that communications, powered by deep patient insight, can play a major role in driving better health outcomes. The point is not lost on David Hunt, CEO of Havas Lynx, who last year produced a White Paper exploring how effective communications can improve patient well-being: “Smiles that can Save Lives was inspired by the Google concept of 'winning the moments that matter' - and it focuses on the need to identify the key moments in a patient's journey where communication can have an impact on behaviour,” he says. “As a communications industry, it's our job to win as many of those moments as we can, to improve outcomes. There's a lot more that pharma and communications agencies can do to support the patient journey. As an industry we talk a lot about developing services around or beyond the pill, but the problem is that those discussions still focus very much on the pill. We should actually be focusing on developing a more holistic understanding of the patient journey - and in that context, patient insights are critical.”

A central component of Smiles that can Save Lives is a case study that examines the experiences of Lucy, a type 1 diabetes patient who, following complications, required a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant. “We plotted Lucy's journey across the care pathway, noting both the positive moments and the moments that could have been improved. Unfortunately, the positive experiences - though many - were outweighed by moments where much more could have been done. Shortcomings typically boiled down to communication, the empathy of HCPs or anxieties caused by poorly presented or non-existent patient information. In one example, Lucy cited a patient leaflet designed to explain dialysis. The language it used was brutal, unsettling and, potentially, counter-productive. Sadly, it's not uncommon. But it highlights a crucial lesson: when people are faced with life-changing ordeals, communication not only needs to be empathetic, it must be based on a holistic understanding of the patient's world.”

Thankfully, the tools and techniques to develop patient insights are firmly within our grasp - and they're being used to inform patient-centred interventions. A good example of this is a live campaign currently being undertaken by Havas in the field of MS. “We were asked to develop an innovation that could make a difference to patients with MS. But instead of second-guessing the solution, we invited the MS community to describe their challenges and tell us where we could have the most positive impact on their lives. Through a social media campaign - @TheWorldvsMS - we curated the best ideas and presented them to the tech community to develop solutions. The innovations that are emerging can make a real difference. But, without the patients' involvement, no amount of industry strategising could ever have uncovered them. The best examples of patient-centric work are bold, brave and creative.”

The best examples of patient-centric work are bold, brave and creative

Wisdom of the crowd
In fact, collaboration with patients is growing as drug companies finally move away from broadcast-style messaging and embrace more inclusive methods of communication. “Research shows that patients want to play their part in improving the treatment of disease,” says Kate Eversole, an experienced pharma marketer currently studying an MSc in behavioural science. “If patients can see that their insights are being used to improve their own healthcare and the treatment of others, they're more than willing to work with pharma. And when they do, they often form a different perception of the industry because they feel their input is valued. They're not motivated by money, they're motivated by a genuine desire to help. If pharma companies can leverage that desire, they can unlock patient insights that will drive meaningful behavioural change.”

A good example of this is a recent crowdsourcing campaign designed to generate patient insight to inform gout education. “Crowdsourcing, as the name suggests, is the process of obtaining insight from a crowd of people,” says Kate. “Typically conducted in a safe, online environment, it enables companies to gather deep, holistic insights across a range of stakeholders. It's an effective means of reaching out to patients who wouldn't normally be involved in market research, and provides a platform for them to share their personal stories. The gout crowdsourcing project demonstrated how patients not only valued their interaction with pharma, but that they also learnt from their interaction with fellow gout-sufferers. Crucially, the project enabled the pharma company to identify language commonly used by patients and compare it to language used in health education materials. It revealed a mismatch between the two - highlighting a communication gap that was hindering patient engagement and stifling behavioural change. The company has subsequently revised its materials to incorporate real-world patient language.”

The study, rather like the dialysis example earlier, underlines the importance of language in healthcare communications. Health literacy is both a major challenge and a major opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry. “It may sound like a small thing to change, but if a communication speaks in your language it makes the world of difference,” says Kate. “The impact on patient behaviour can be significant. But it's only by moving towards more collaborative relationships with patients - rather than simply telling them what to do - that pharmaceutical companies can uncover the real-world insights that change behaviours. These insights are likely to be the foundation of securing positive health behaviours. But the challenge is not simply to change behaviours today, it's to ensure that our communications do all that they can to sustain those behaviours for the long term.”

To be fully appraised of patient needs, we need to track the patient journey

Customer-centric communications
Clearly, the way healthcare communications are being developed and delivered is changing. The era of one-dimensional messaging is being replaced by dialogue that extends to patients, carers and consumers. But that dialogue shouldn't exclude traditional customer groups. “Just because it's been labelled as 'patient-centricity' doesn't mean that now we only need to engage with patients,” says Tim Warren, managing director, Triducive. “The clinical and payer audiences we've traditionally communicated with have a similar responsibility to be patient-centric. Payers are accountable to the patient populations they serve, while clinicians are there to do the best for their patients. As an industry, we need to understand what these key stakeholders are looking for - and why - because there's a huge amount of insight we can build into our interventions.

“To be fully appraised of patient needs, we need to track the patient journey and explore the pathways they take. It's about understanding all of the touchpoints they encounter along the way, and the individuals that influence decisions about the care that they receive. Clearly, payers are not exposed to patients to the same extent as clinicians - but they frequently connect with patient forums and expert patient groups that inform policy at a local level. CCGs also have lay board members that help influence decisions around service delivery. These can each provide an accurate barometer of patients' challenges and needs and then plan the optimal service to deliver the optimal patient care.

“But it's not just the payers and prescribers that can share crucial patient insights. Auxiliary staff such as pharmacists and nurses can help too. These individuals work closely with patients to improve their adherence, understanding and confidence - and they can be a crucial gateway to real-world patient experiences. In total, these customer groups span the entire gamut of the care pathway. It's vital that pharma engages them to develop patient-centred interventions. Whether we call it market access or patient access, our objectives are still the same: to get the right medicines to the right patients at the right time. And each customer group can provide vital clues to help solve the puzzle. The challenge is to leverage them all, and to use those insights to build a deep understanding of patients.”

And so we end up back where we started - with the need for collaboration in the development of health interventions, and more inclusive, customer-centred dialogue to drive the communications that support them. There isn't a drug company or healthcare organisation that doesn't set out to be patient-centric - and finally they're beginning to make good on the promise. We now have the tools, the techniques and the will to add the patient voice to the development of health innovation - and the evidence to prove that it's worth it.

The patient will see you now. Tread carefully, and a whole new world of high-value insight is there for the taking.

Article by
Chris Ross

is a freelance writer specialising in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry

31st October 2016

From: Marketing

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