“It’s important to recognize that patient engagement is critical and we need to incorporate it early in the development process and have it aligned across pharma functions.”

Dr Tehseen Salimi,

TA Vice President in Global Medical Affairs at AstraZeneca

Yes, you might have felt a bit skeptical reading this. A powerful quote indeed, but hey, how on Earth is this meant to be accomplished in the right way? Pharma is not your “average” retail industry with DTC marketing methods. Besides, it seems there hasn’t even been a solid definition of what patient centricity is. “Putting patient needs in the center of communicative strategy” barely counts. Again, what exactly is being done to ensure better patient experience?

And yet, speaking of that quote, it feels essentially right. Healthcare industry should revolve around patient needs, not just competing brands. People don’t buy hydrocarbon substances, they take their prescriptions to achieve the desired results – and they like to be listened to. Even when they are not physicians themselves.

Pharma can do quite a lot here. Apart from, obviously, extending the range of available treatment options, there is a huge demand for information. The industry has all the resources and potential to bring that information – and the benefits for both patients and brands are, in fact, enormous.

(Skip if too obvious) Why pharma should care

Focusing on actual patient treatment success can, in fact, be more rewarding than anything else. Giant brands present themselves as something evolving around ideas, not products, because humans are attracted to these notions. How exactly does this work in life sciences?

  1. Referrals. The more successful a doctor is at providing optimal treatment options, the more trust they gain within their medical community. This leads to more patients being referred to this particular specialist. Now, it suddenly becomes reasonable to make sure that professional get all the relevant information about the products. By now, many have heard the general principle: one satisfied customer accounts for 9 referrals. Of course, with medical community, it’s more complicated – as research shows, doctors tend to refer to those who they’ve heard of. By helping physicians optimize treatment, pharma can turn them into key opinion leaders, which solves the puzzle.
  2. Firmer standing within the medical community. Yes, community. The world of healthcare providers is one based on complex chains of contacts. Generally, physicians tend to look up to opinion leaders they trust – and around those towering figures, they build their communication networks. The crucial thing here is, they subconsciously copy this approach when dealing with pharmaceutical brands. The more trusted a brand is by KOLs, the more convenient it will be for the others to prescribe these products – even if these prescribers have never been visited by a rep.
  3. More insights. Data is the key to many things – and medical data is, well… sensitive. Receiving patient information is tricky at times – mostly because it has to be done through physicians. Again, even doctors don’t always get enough data to transmit to pharma reps – even if they wanted to. However, once a pharma brand puts some effort into establishing the flow of information between doctors and patients (see below for how), this serves a double purpose. Namely, patients collaborate with doctors more efficiently, which is a step to better treatment results, and there is more data to capture.

Bonus: Focusing on patient needs and being more active in the treatment process creates positive brand awareness. Remember the huge trust issues that pharma was struggling with? The situation may have improved a little – and it is largely due to patient-centricity efforts. A modern healthcare brand does not only produce chemical substances – it is expected to assist in treatment.


Content flow: Major factors at play

You may have guessed by now that pharma assistance in treatment schemes is meant to be informational. This means brands can use their potential at creating high-quality digital content to circulate around the whole healthcare system. Now, remember the story of Edison who needed just one hammer blow in precisely one place to set a mechanism at work? Well, pharma will most likely need three strikes.

Let’s consider the three major factors that influence the flow of information. By establishing brand presence in regard with these, pharmaceutical brands can actually help out with the treatment process.

1. Doctors want more structured information.

Don’t get it wrong – product information is abundant and doctors know how to navigate the Internet. According to research, at least 27% physicians use pharma websites right between patient visits, and 50% report no difficulty finding the right information. The real problem is that there is too much information around. This means, in the end, only the really valuable content will survive. Preferably the type where all the necessary information is put together for convenience.

This way, content produced by pharma should perfectly fit its purpose and help navigate itself. This is why interactive content is especially suitable for this purpose. By skipping what they don’t need, physicians can find their way through the presentation / app / website into what helps them make decisions.

Tactical hammer blow: Educate physicians through integrated platforms, not scattered bits and pieces. The perfect solution would be to tie together eDetailing sessions, portals and brand website into one knot, where everything is structured and easy to find.

2. Patients are becoming more involved.

What did you expect? Of course, with Internet offering so much health information, we are lucky not to have turned into cyberchondriacs, all of us. Jokes aside, recent reports have seen 77% of patients doing online research before an appointment, and about 52% searching the web for medical information. Your average patient is pretty much likely to ask why exactly this or that treatment is prescribed.

With regard to treatment, this is definitely a positive trend. With more patient awareness, healthcare providers can expect stricter adherence and better collaboration. Gone are the days when patients mixed antibiotics with alcohol, enter the times of more flexible treatment. For pharma, this means providing patient-oriented content is reasonable.

Tactical hammer blow: Educate patients, but sensibly and cost-efficiently. Remember that patients can actually find basic information on their conditions online, so pharma can present this audience with more specified content, including apps for adherence and communication (e.g. diaries). Ideally, at least part of this content should be “salvaged” from existing assets for the tactics to be cost-efficient.

3. Patient-doctor communication is getting closer (thanks to digital).

You don’t have to be a digital native to communicate with your doctor. According to statistics, 86% use online portals for communication with healthcare providers when available, and 93% use apps whenever they can. And patients are willing to share their information more, as well: 90% said they were ready to provide the data from wearables to their physicians. Doctors are comfortable with receiving the information, too.

However, why is email still the chief digital channel for communication? Even as many as 49% GenY patients still tend to prefer it. The answer is that email is more standardized. You can’t expect your doctor to be communicating via the same app that you happened to find, and email is still the “default option”. In the nearest future, we can expect pharma brands establish communication apps, dividing the audience condition by condition.

Tactical hammer blow: Try to establish a digital communication platform between physicians and patients – this will ensure better treatment results in the long run, since the information that circulates will not get lost “in between” the channels.


How exactly digital can work here

So, there you go: content for professionals, content for patients, communication. These are the areas where pharma can step in to improve treatment results. Now the question is how it is better done – after all, efficiency matters greatly.

Digital tech is great at two things: making “polished”, shiny content AND distributing it. Speaking of content itself, we know more or less what types of it are required most.

Static visual aids used to be great, and still can be – printable PDF files are indispensable at times. However, they almost never work well enough on their own. Better incorporate them into something bigger, like a downloadables section on a portal or within an eDetailing presentation.

Same goes for videos: they are among the beloved types of content but tend to be scattered and forgotten when circulating on their own. However, videos, especially educational ones, deserve to be part of something greater.

Interactive content seems like a good option. The decade of eDetailing evolution has produced a genre of presentations that incorporate both static, animated, interactive and video elements into one memorable hub. Why not develop on top of this newly-set tradition? Only instead of separate presentations linked to particular products, the same approach can be used in content in all of three categories above – doctor-oriented, patient and communication.

To make it all work, the brand can now use its content management to create a large store of digital assets that can be used globally whenever needed. We have seen some of such platforms emerge, like Veeva Vault and solutions by Quintiles. To make the whole process of readjusting content faster, it is reasonable to reuse as much of that content as possible.

Imagine you have some general information from an eDetailing presentation – and you can use the code from those slides in an adherence app. This adherence app will also be used by patients to contact their providers and contain (perhaps) some kind of dosing calendar. That calendar was created in short time based on the one used in an unrelated presentation for a different condition. Content reuse is the final piece of the puzzle – and by completing it, pharma can finally make a difference in treatment outcomes, ultimately gaining the trust of audiences and better treatment results.