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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Patient engagement hygiene factors

Ignore them at your peril

Stefania RucciMost pharma companies strive to put patients at the heart of every aspect of their business and this has inevitably changed how we approach patient engagement. Other forces at play have also made this necessary: patient empowerment, mounting health cost pressures, the importance of treatment adherence to create efficiencies, and the role of technology (such as wearables) as an enabling factor for patients. These have all created new opportunities and reasons to engage. Change feels momentous, inevitable and overdue.

There are great examples of pharma rising to this challenge with engagement programmes, particularly in the field of rare diseases and HIV, that are changing old perceptions and breaking new ground. However, are all programmes keeping up with the times, or are some struggling to deliver? And since we are asking fundamental questions, how comfortable and familiar with the principles of genuine patient engagement are pharma companies and marketers or are they still feeling slightly at odds with the concept?

With the need for change in engagement mostly driven by patients themselves, it is critical that we avoid superficial fads and change brought about just for change’s sake. There are five critical and basic rules that form deep foundations for patient engagement. They may not be sexy, you could easily call them patient engagement hygiene factors. When observed, they are easily forgotten, but when disrupted, the effects can be very negative.

  1. Mind the gap: accept there will always be an unbridgeable distance. The biggest challenge we have working on behalf of pharma is being seen to represent a partisan view and a single-minded value proposition. That is a fact. Patients, on the other hand, seek the broadest range of options. Pharma may have what patients need, but patients want it from an objective source with no perceived agenda. Issues around trust widen the gap.
  2. Think holistically: engage on a deeper lever, think about patients holistically, as people with full lives, not just a set of symptoms. This wider view allows a bigger conversation on what constitutes unmet or poorly met needs. Recently, social listening exercises have provided a real education for pharma teams and an opportunity to hear unadulterated patient voices. Capturing the richness of this insight to build engagement that is inclusive of their and your perspective is key.

  3. Pharma’s place in the conversation: carvea credible role in keeping with who we are, and don’t forget to be brave in doing so.Critical questions to help the process:

  4. Are we able to forge a legitimate/natural/purposeful role for ourselves within this initiative?
  5. What added value can we bring to the relationship beside our own agenda?
  6. Does the relationship with patients need to be direct or is partnership with others a better route? And if so, why? Which leads naturally to the next point…
  7. Shared purpose: explore whether we are setting out with a single-minded agenda, or are looking for common ground to truly collaborate? A typical barrier to engagement is that pharma often wants shiny, ‘gimmicky’ things (often perceived as costly), whereas patients want practical, real-world solutions to their problems. There are great examples of altruistic, non-commercial joint working, and also growing examples where pharma is seen as an integral and collaborative partner. Ideally partners don’t impose their agenda, and patients want to be helped on theirterms. Shared goals can give an initiative the extra impetus it needs to survive the setbacks that every projects encounters; passionate people go the extra mile.

  8. Match your stamina to the project’s ambition: consider that pharma thinking is notoriously short-term, rarely looking beyond a couple of years at the most. Patient projects may take longer to come to fruition.Examine your shared goals from the start; honestly assess the likelihood that you are going to disappoint each other; are your ambitions a good match?

While not exhaustive, this checklist is a reminder of the basic principles of relationship building for anyone wanting to test the strength of their patient engagement programme, whether you are a fan of analogue or digital solutions or anything in between. Change is proactive as well as reactive, and we have seen some companies, or teams, truly get better at matching patient-centric narratives with action, better at considering the patient perspective, or less tentative in leveraging the opportunities offered by technology, or engaging patients earlier in the journey.

Stefania Rucci is the Joint MD and Director of Healthcare at Say Communications

In association with

Say Communications

22nd June 2018

From: Healthcare



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