3 Ways to Engage Patients as People—And Why It Matters for Brands

It’s safe to say that patient centricity is far more than a trend—it’s here to stay. Across healthcare and pharma marketing, it’s taken hold in a variety of ways: from patient-infused mission statements, to bigger patient marketing budgets, to patient-driven research and design. Because ultimately, healthcare is really about patient care, and now more than ever, patients are the key to driving brand success.

So what does it mean for marketers to create brand engagement that is truly patient centric?

Much of each patient’s experience is driven by aspects of their identity and the context of their lives. And that broader story has a ripple effect on the way they perceive and engage with a brand.

Simply put, delivering on the promise of patient centricity takes engaging patients as people. Here are three key ways to do that.

1. Speak Your Patients’ Language

According to recent guidance from the FDA, health literacy is the match between the information we provide and people’s capacity to find, understand, and use it for their health.1 To help patients understand, writing clear copy below a certain grade level has long been essential. But what’s often overlooked is using the language that patients speak themselves.

Patients are so passionate and particular about the language used to describe their condition that they often create new words to accurately represent their experiences. For example, inchstones are the micro-milestones that parents of children with rare diseases celebrate. It’s one thing for brands to acknowledge these successes, but using the term can connect with the audience in a more human, personal way.

Scanxiety is another example; it’s the fear and worry that can overcome a cancer patient before getting a scan. And while we might think to offer guidance on how to calm their nerves, actually calling it scanxiety in our communications makes messages ring true—and makes the patients feel more understood.

In many ways, these language nuances aren’t just more personal, they’re more accurate. They bring clarity in a way that writing to a grade level never could. And they demonstrate that brands not only understand a condition, but that they truly get it.

2. Be More Inclusive of Different Patient Groups

Gender, sexual orientation, income, race, and ethnic background are all central to a patient’s identity and healthcare experience.

Consider these examples of the impact of identity on experience:

Are there aspects of patient identity that your brand could better support?

Let’s unpack an identity disparity in psoriasis. Most Google searches for psoriasis symptoms generate descriptions of pink or red patches with silvery-white scales. But these descriptions only apply to light-colored skin. For people with darker skin, patches can look purple, and the scales are usually gray. Psoriasis patches on dark skin are also more easily confused with other conditions,6 which can make it even harder to diagnose.7 And despite the prevalence of the disease among people of color,8 they are hardly ever featured in communications about the condition.

If we aren’t addressing aspects of identity in communications with patients, we could be missing out on huge opportunities to help improve everything from diagnosis and survival rates to brand engagement and trust.

3. Create 1:1 Engagements that Connect Across Each Patient’s Experience

Creating content that’s more resonant and inclusive is only part of the equation. It’s just as important to get that content to the right patient, in the right place, at the right time.

Patient journey maps are a tried-and-true, foundational tool for understanding the what, when, how, where, and why of communicating with patients. But in reality, each patient’s experience is far more complex, nuanced, and individual. What’s more, patients have come to expect that a brand’s engagement should reflect their experience. In fact, according to a large survey, 84% of people say that being treated like a person, not a number, is very important for brands.9

For medications that treat heart attack survivors, personalized engagement can be lifesaving. The first 90 days after a heart attack are critical to preventing another one.10 And while the journey stages are consistent, each survivor goes through them at different times and in different ways. So it’s imperative for brands to keep their finger on the pulse of each survivor to deliver the proper education and support:

  • By continuing to enrich and refine what is learned about each patient.
  • By connecting their experience through integrated, dynamic touchpoints.
  • By using engagement to better understand where a patient is in their experience and inform the next best message to deliver.

The more 1:1 engagement a brand can create, the more effective it can be at driving treatment success—and in this case, helping prevent another heart attack.

Take a moment to consider your own experience as a patient and the brands you’ve engaged with. How well did the content relate to aspects of your identity? Did the language really resonate with you? Was the engagement timely, relevant, and personalized?

It’s clear that we can all do more as marketers to create truly patient-centric brands. And with patients being such key drivers of brand success, the value of engaging them as people has never been greater.


1. https://www.fda.gov/media/108318/download.

2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1352458516679894.

3. https://www.everydayhealth.com/multiple-sclerosis/ms-among-african-americans-new-research-challenges-old-beliefs.

4. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/cancer-facts/cancer-facts-for-lesbian-and-bisexual-women.html.

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5340994.

6. https://www.healthline.com/health/psoriasis-on-black-skin#on-black-skin.

7. https://www.psoriasis.org/advance/treating-skin-of-color.

8. https://www.psoriasis.org/advance/diagnosing-psoriasis-in-skin-of-color.

9. https://www.salesforce.com/content/dam/web/en_us/www/documents/e-books/state-of-the-connected-customer-report-second-edition2018.pdf.

10. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circ.142.suppl_3.12546.

  • Deb Deaver

    Deb Deaver is Chief Patient Officer of Omnicom Health Group. Deb leads the patient vertical at Omnicom Health Group. She founded one of the first patient marketing agencies and has always been at the forefront of patient communication. Her vision is to create solutions for clients that make patients’ lives better.


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