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Why culture is too often the missing link in patient-centricity

Looking at the role culture plays in shaping attitudes and behaviour in healthcare

H&P Abigail Stuart and Di AdamsPatient-centricity has been the buzzword of the decade. It's hard to find a pharma company mission statement without this most noble of aims. However are we keeping pace with what this actually means? In an ever-changing world do we need to re-visit how to achieve it - and even how it's defined? 

As part of our recent publication, Big Thinking on How Brands Shape Culture, we spoke to industry leaders about the role culture plays in shaping attitudes and behaviour in healthcare. Reactions were consistent: to truly connect with patients the first stage is to stop thinking of them purely as patients.

“Ultimately it's not about the patient, it's about the person. If we focus only on the patient we're almost assuming that the disease is defining this person, whereas it should be seen as the other way around, with the person defining his or her disease.” (Ariella Evenzahav, head of US market analytics, Takeda Oncology).

David Berman (associate VP, global commercial capabilities, Merck & Co) echoes this view, championing a call for industry to break out of this insular mindset and re-evaluate its relationship with people. Only then can we start to understand how to inform, support and fundamentally connect with the end user.

To do this we need to reintroduce culture to the marketing mix. Culture is the 'missing link' that turns patient-centricity from a buzzword into a focused, meaningful and relevant person-focused strategy.

Culture is the 'missing link' that turns patient-centricity from a buzzword into a meaningful and relevant person-focused strategy

David cites the impact of culture on ageing as a relevant example. Old age is being redefined. We no longer consider ourselves to be old at 60 or 70 - many are enjoying a new lease of life at this age, freed from the shackles of working 9 to 5. Is it any surprise then that septuagenarians who read about 'diseases of the elderly', with the associated imagery and narrative, sometimes fail to identify with them? Healthcare companies need to keep up with changing attitudes and reflect this cultural shift.

So how do we set about deepening our cultural understanding? Via an appreciation of the person behind the patient - and the cultural influences that shape that person's view of the world.

Here are some of our top tips:

1) Take off your blinkers
We need to view research without the company-centric filters we so often apply. What is the end user's perspective on life and on health, and how does their condition fit into their map of the world? Start from the customer's perspective and see the world through their eyes.

2) Conduct a cultural read
Explore the cultural landscape via a cultural read. Understand the imagery and language prevalent in the area and explore how media and key influencers frame the issues. Then ask yourself whether you want to reflect - or rebel from - the dominant cultural code.

3) Observe rather than ask
Introduce a wider variety of approaches into your research. Accompany people in their lives and see what they are doing. Adopt self-ethnographic techniques which allow people to 'show' rather than 'tell' to get you closer to reality. Capitalise on a recent cultural trend - photography. People love connecting through photographs - after all, they share almost 2 billion photos every day on social media. Use this to understand them and their world. Life-logging takes this further by recording and diarising life through wearable and mobile technology. This opens up a whole new world of discovery and allows us to capture moments and insights that can bring fresh insights to brands.

4) Keep your finger on the pulse
Keep your finger on the cultural pulse so you stay current and relevant - so you know the cultural trends that will influence perceptions of your brand. For example, people are increasingly looking to connect with brands and companies they respect. Brands that have real purpose and are felt to have substance beyond the tag line. They are also exhibiting an evolving relationship with their health. Health is no longer viewed as one discrete component of life. Instead it is all-pervasive, inextricably linked with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being so that the boundaries between 'health' and simply 'good living every day' are increasingly blurred. Health brands are being challenged to keep pace with these broader cultural trends.

5) Ditch the stereotypes
Finally take your cultural insights and take a good long look at your communications. Have they moved with the times? Are you learning more about the ways in which culturally relevant brands communicate? Take a leaf out of Dove's book. Unilever has realised that perfection is passé. The new norm embraces difference and celebrates imperfection (check out #unstereotype); a clear message to ditch clichéd imagery. Or push yourselves even further and look to emulate culture brands - brands that take a stance, challenging and shaping culture. Culture brands create a rallying call and harness social power to drive change (think Airbnb and the sharing economy) - arguably a perfect fit with healthcare and a model to aspire to.

Abigail Stuart is global CEO of health and Di Adams is a partner at Hall & Partners

In association with Hall & Partners Health

7th November 2016

From: Marketing

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