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Smart Thinking blog

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

Walking in their shoes

The impact of experiencing what it would be like to have a chronic disease for a day


I have just experienced what it would be like to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for a day. Now, I know you will be thinking: ‘What is he talking about? That’s a chronic condition, not something you catch and get over in 24 hours.’ Of course, you’re right. And for those living with COPD, the impact on their lives can be enormous – I understand that even better now after my experience. Let me explain.

I experienced a Life in a Day simulation of life for somebody living with COPD, and I don’t mind telling you it was incredibly disruptive to my daily routine and scarily thought-provoking about what the future would look like. I am very fortunate, as when I woke up the next morning the experience was over, but for those living with COPD, another day like the previous one, and possibly worse, begins. So, why did I do it and why would I suggest we can all learn from experiencing something similar?

COPD

Their life in a day
This programme, like the ones for other medical conditions, has been put together following discussion with those living with and working with COPD. The aim is to provide those participating with an enhanced insight into the daily life and longer-term implications for the individual. It involves calls with actors playing healthcare professionals (HCPs) or members of patient support groups, using equipment provided as stimulus, for example dummy inhalers, and recreates the decisions, considerations, actions and health difficulties experienced by those with COPD most days of their lives. I even had to discuss with my wife if we were prepared for her to take on all the domestic responsibilities and how she would cope as my full-time carer in the future. An eye-opening and heartbreaking thought process, even in a role play.

More than patient-centric
Working in marketing and communications, we are always talking about being patient- centric. But without being in the situation ourselves, how well can we really grasp the real implications of the health and everyday living challenges individuals and their families face? And without having that insight, how can we really hope to be innovative in our communication approach or achieve the best results from our activity for the patient?

I would argue the quality of the insight is everything. The adage ‘we get back what we put in’ comes to mind. In all our work we should be striving for the best insights possible and that, of course, includes understanding the lives of those we are trying to help with our health innovations.

Experience what I do, not what I say
We can undertake surveys that ask the right questions, but that does rely on people answering being honest or honest with themselves. The latter may not be a conscious intention to deceive, but a genuine lack of awareness of something they subconsciously do. So, observation or personal experience can provide so much more insight than other methodologies. But there is often a cost, of time if nothing else, and this type of insight is something too easy to decide as just ‘nice to have’, rather than essential.

The HCP’s day
We should equally be trying to gain the same insights into the daily lives of our HCP customers. Medical device companies are often good at spending time in surgery seeing how their devices are used in situ. But how many of you have spent time shadowing or trying to better understand the HCPs you are communicating with? And how might you do things differently if you had a true insight? Meeting HCPs at a conference or even at their workplace is very different to seeing them interact with their patients and colleagues on a daily basis. When I speak to healthcare communicators, I am still staggered by the number who haven’t seen HCPs working with patients, and the increasingly virtual world is only going to make that worse. I have also always believed communicators should have at least met some of the patients in the areas they are working in, or members of the organisations that represent them. I am now going to add that I think everybody would benefit from a similar ‘life in a day’ experience to the one I had. Ideally for a condition that is relevant to the area they work in, but the experience itself is valuable enough to help you think more deeply when considering the impact such conditions have on individuals.

Deeper insights, better outcomes
Often insight is just linked to big data or quantitative research. Clinical research only enhances this where more often primary end points are quantitative and not quality of life motivated, if indeed a measure around that is included at all. Things are changing however, with the proliferation of the importance of real-world data, but that does not necessarily mean there is a greater understanding of the impact on everyday living. But, as marketeers and communicators, we need to delve far more deeply and our insights need to include the emotional, practical and motivational understanding.

The better we understand these, the better equipped we’ll be to develop the interventions or communications that will make the difference.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

15th June 2022

From: Marketing

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