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The digital doctor-patient relationship

The potential of doctor-facing and patient-facing tools

James SelveyIn 2017, doctors and patients are digitally engaged, be it for obtaining information or to have access to tools - to help diagnose, manage, maintain adherence, or simply to stay ‘well aware’ via wearables and health data.

Doctors are a few clicks away from accessing peer-reviewed papers online, patient records are becoming evermore paperless via EHR, and increasingly,  apps are being used as tools in practice, from assisting with calculations (eg CliniCalc), to carrying the BNF in your pocket via the official app.

At the same time, the public is digitally savvy (4 out of 5 UK adults own a smartphone, rising to 91% of 18-44 year olds), they are more informed and more interested in health than ever before. So we ask, how do they employ digital tools and what are the opportunities for brands to engage with patients and doctors at different stages of their digital journeys?

Let’s consider the typical patient pathway. Upon presentation of symptoms, patients turn to the internet, with 1 in 20 Google searches being health-related. Google is even trialling health cards in Australia this year in response to this kind of searching: Dr Google can see you even quicker than before. Of course, these people are looking for a potential diagnosis and further understanding of their condition. What do I have? And what can I do?

Although the sheer quantity of information available online is beyond question, the quality can be questionable and the prospect of descent into ‘cyberchondria’ represents a serious potential risk. But where there is risk, there is opportunity. This discovery phase of the patient journey is an opportunity to use unbranded communications to present the reliable information you want to share in a way that it can easily be found. With knowledge of both the disease area and your audience, searches can be anticipated and content optimised so that concerned patients can find the most relevant information in the first place they look. This could for example, be a simple case of having your disease awareness or corporate-level sites thoughtfully created, and the information you publish optimised and regularly updated with useful examples and compelling content.

Once patients have been diagnosed, it’s increasingly likely that they’ll search for any treatments they’ve been prescribed. This is where the hygiene of your branded work needs to be in a good place. Will they find reliable information about your product on trustworthy sites like netdoctor? Have you developed your branded content so that it can be found, but also protected it to remain compliant?

Particularly in cases of serious or chronic illnesses, patients will also turn to the web for support. Patient groups, charities and other forums are good and trusted sources of information - not just on the dry clinical aspects of conditions, but also on the day-to-day realities of living with these diseases - frequently via people living with the condition in question. Depending upon the disease area, this part of the patient journey could represent ideal opportunites for brands to form partnerships at the corporate level with charities, patient groups or even individual bloggers. They also represent a crucial platform for listening to patients, and understanding their wants and needs.

As a pharmaceutical company, this kind of informed understanding of patients’ needs and behaviour is a firm basis for determining what further digital tactics could be of use to your end users. Is adherence a problem? Could they find value, therefore, in a patient reminder function within an app? Are there parameters they can track over time to monitor their condition through games or questionnaires? This is where social listening, thoughtfully done, for example, can prove itself to be invaluable.

These things aren’t a case of if, but when. And the when is now: behaviour is already being monitored and influenced by healthcare organisations with varying degrees of success. So what’s next? The intersection between doctor-facing and patient-facing tools still holds relatively untapped potential. The number of people using wearable tech in the UK tripled between 2014 and 2016 alone but, of those who track their own health data, fewer than half share it with their doctors. Why is this the case and what can we do about it? Is there scope for shared digital tools to be used in consultation, to break down the doctor-patient barrier, and turn these consults into collaborative sessions? Could the doctor and patient work together through questionnaires, diagrams, or even gamified content?

If a patient can come pre-armed with behavioural health data, then doctors can make better-informed decisions more quickly, and in a culture where consumers are used to having control, the intersection of an engaged-patient and an informed-doctor is surely a powerful and valuable place to be.

James Selvey is an account manager at Grey Health London

in association with


11th July 2017

From: Healthcare



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