Digital: the new frontier in patient outreach 

| August 10, 2022

By Reuters Events:-New digital services have enormous potential to help patients along in their treatment journeys if pharma can create the right partnerships

The future is digital. Patients routinely now begin their research online with a billion daily healthcare searches and counting. They also increasingly share insights with one another on social media and expect transactions of all kinds to happen via smartphone and computer.

In short, there is a growing expectation for round-the-clock consumer convenience, says Saleem Hussaini, Head of Patient Services IT, Biogen. “When we experience Amazon-type service, why should patients expect any less? We need to invest in these experiences and meet them where they want to be met in the channel of their choosing.”

The growth of wearables, remote home monitoring and in-home care will only add further digital layers to future patient/pharma interactions.

Investment in conversational AI to help provide the right information on demand, or augmented reality to help demonstrate a particular therapy or intervention are two examples of what this near future might look like, says Hussaini. “Digital opens up a lot of different opportunities in terms of how you can engage with patients and meet their expectations. It opens a lot of doors in improving the patient healthcare experience.”

Social media, meanwhile, offers innumerable ways for the industry to innovate in its outreach strategies, gather real-time feedback, capture the true patient voice and share valuable educative content with target patient populations. “We try to reach patients everywhere,” says Danilo Pagano, Vice President Digital & Head of Global Customer Engagement at Lundbeck. “Our intention is to stimulate the discussion to happen among patients.

The opportunities to use social media and apps to build on the possibilities here are great. Pharma can more deeply understand the patient journey, help patients to earlier diagnoses, help them be more adherent post-diagnosis and ultimately improve their clinical outcomes and life quality with the right digital outreach.

Where is pharma in this mix right now? Largely absent but learning fast.

Pharma clearly is not the first port of call for patients in their digital interactions as a share of search engine results of your own patient content may very likely reveal.

But patient desire for the right sorts of direct digital interactions with pharma is also demonstrably strong.

At a board Otsuka held in 2020, patients, providers and staff identified a connected care platform as the one thing they said would help them the most in managing their treatments, by offering transparent access to their data and enabled better discussions and better informed decisions about their care.

“We can potentially integrate all care points on the same platform. We are very hopeful it will provide what they need but we will continue to engage with them to make sure if provides what they need,” says Desiree Priestley, Senior Director, Patient Experience & Operations at Otsuka

“We want to make sure patients are aware of our services by going straight to them. We need to meet patients where they are. It was trending that way already, but for the first time everyone is paying attention.”

There is work to be done, however. Pharma is not the first place patients go for information, says Priestley. “They go to advocacy organisations or HCPs, so we have to figure out how to appropriately partner with them as well as Facebook, other social media communities and consumer platforms, such as Good RX in the US. We need to meet patients where they are going.”

Facilitating peer-to-peer outreach

Peer-to-peer interactions are increasingly influential and important to patients and with the right approach engagement in this space can offer powerful digital outreach capabilities.

Helping patients help others is a simple and effective way to make a difference and benefits everyone, says Eileen Goldstein, Senior Director, Patient Services and Reimbursement, MNK. “There are so many patients that are looking for ways to help others and by helping others. Giving them that opportunity to encourage and advocate for others is really empowering for them.”

It is clearly an approach that resonates with patients, says Richard Stephens, Patient Advocate, NCRI. “Patients listen to other patients. We go in chat rooms, Facebook and talk to each other in clinics. That is incredibly influential.”

Clearly being involved in these conversations in an appropriate way is fast becoming essential for pharma, says Olivier Chateau, Health Union’s co-founder and CEO. “Patients will continue to share experiences both good and bad and everywhere in between at exponential speed, regardless of the industry and the advocacy organisations wiling to be part of it.”

“In patients’ minds, other patient experiences are equally as important as their doctors’ opinions. We want to find someone who has had a similar experience to us and cares for us as a person That can carry equal weight with an HCP’s opinion. We used to provide a lot of HCP content in addition to patient-driven content, but people told us ‘I want to hear from other patients first’.”

This is not just true for younger digital natives either, but applies broadly, says Chateau. “The elderly generation of 65 plus is being impacted more by chronic conditions. They have democratised all the social tools and are using them more than ever before.”

There is, however, a stark gender divide. Women are far more active across platforms, says Chateau. They are more likely to take actions, to consume, to act, to comment or to read and repost or share an article of interest.

Facilitating such peer-to-peer exchange requires a long-term view and investment in a holistic strategy, rather than simply pushing out marketing messaging, however. As Carole Scrafton, Co-founder and Patient Expert, FibroFlutters puts it: “You have to have a really good patient engagement strategy before you can actually put a good social media strategy into place.”

For most, perhaps all, pharma companies this means recognising the proper limits of the digital outreach activity they engage in. “We moderate millions of conversations daily. People want to hear from pharma on specific topics that are related to them such as drug information, support, and help with payment system programmes,” says Chateau. “The big opportunity for pharma is to understand what people want to hear from them and overdeliver on those core things and not go over boundaries on condition management.”

The need for authenticity

A good rule of thumb for getting the approach and tone right here is to ensure pharma’s approach is authentic in that it should only be in the service of meeting patient need, says Chateau. “Pharma needs to ask ‘what can I provide in my part of that journey of treatment and support in an authentic way?’ Anything related to treatment efficacy , safety, resources, reminders, financial help – is it covered or not covered.”

Authenticity is the watchword, says Chateau. “Everything resides in authenticity. Things must be authentic and balanced. Authenticity is what will win in the world of tomorrow. Content needs to be created for people, not for search engines and pharma must not be pushy. Its role is to give option and resource around treatment, to help you during that journey.”

Category: Uncategorized

Comments are closed.