Many brands recognize the importance of dialogue. In fact, published research demonstrates that poor communication between patients and providers leads to distress, uncertainty, internal conflict about decisions, dissatisfaction, and treatment nonadherence.

The default pharma marketing approach to overcome dialogue challenges is to educate patients with product messaging in the form of patient brochures and doctor discussion guides. This approach assumes that knowledge is power. But does this activate your patients and accelerate your brand?

The short answer is no. Here’s why: Communication is complex. Education and brand messaging are important, but they don’t address patient and provider beliefs, motivations, and skills. These are barriers that education and product messaging on their own can’t solve.

In contrast, behavioral science goes beyond information-based approaches and provides a roadmap to change behavior and improve communication. Evidence-based techniques from behavioral science and health psychology can be applied to marketing tactics to overcome communication barriers.

This approach accelerates success for pharma because it does more than just educate—it builds patient and provider motivation and skills that lead to lasting behavior change.

How Can Patient-Provider Communication be Improved?

Many people think that dialogue is difficult to change. They reason that a patient who struggles to communicate with their provider is related to a personality trait or age. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Communication is something that can be changed. In fact, evidence shows that effective communication is a skill that can be taught and learned.

Stop thinking that doctor discussion guides are enough. Instead, start with the patient barriers. How do they feel about their condition? What’s stopping them from starting on your therapy? How do they view their conversations with their provider? Then, assess their beliefs, motivations, and skills through evidence-based techniques and bridge the gap to a more effective patient-provider dialogue.

BELIEFS:

Patients may not always tell the truth because being honest might reveal that their disease is getting worse or that their current treatment is failing.

Technique to consider:

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques, or CBT, can help patients reframe unhelpful or negative beliefs about their condition or treatment. These beliefs often stand in the way of patients having an open conversation with their provider.

MOTIVATIONS:

Many patients are overwhelmed and scared. As a coping mechanism, some normalize their symptoms or deny there’s a problem instead of talking to their provider about important issues.

Technique to consider:

Shared decision making and goal setting encourages patients to articulate their wants and needs. Patients share what their goals are for treatment and how far they are willing to go with their treatment to reach those goals.

SKILLS:

Patients can be educated about their disease, but may lack the skills to engage in an effective discussion with their provider.

Technique to consider:

Observational or active learning techniques provide a model for the patient to emulate and allow patients to build the skills necessary to communicate with their doctor.

How Can Patient Beliefs, Motivations, and Skills be Addressed in Your Marketing Plan?

One-off tactics are not enough to make a difference. To support patients in having an optimal dialogue, integrate evidence-based strategies throughout your patient marketing efforts. This overarching approach of addressing beliefs, motivations, and skills throughout the patient experience
will activate patients and accelerate your brand.

  • Brand website: Digital is a great platform for skill building. Consider including a problem-solving exercise or observational learning video to help patients understand the “how” and overcome potential barriers to an effective conversation with their provider.
  • Call center: Leverage your patient support services to improve dialogue. Utilize nurses or nurse specialists to role-play with patients prior to their next visit with their provider. Through this interaction, nurses can address common communication barriers and build patient confidence in their ability to overcome them.
  • In-office tool: Develop tools that encourage a two-way dialogue between the patient and provider and facilitate a positive discussion about treatment. An interactive, goal setting tool could help patients and providers identify quality-of-life areas that can be improved and guide a conversation about treatment optimization. This approach facilitates a shared decision between two experts—the provider and the patient. The provider is the clinical expert and the patient is the expert on their life and what they are willing to do. The result is that initiation or change in treatment is more acceptable to the patient because it aligns to the patient’s priorities, needs, and goals.

Instead of interrupting the current discussion with education and product messaging, pharma should influence the process of care by supporting patients and providers throughout the conversation. View the patient and provider as a single, decision-making team, and develop solutions designed for a two-way exchange of information.

Improved patient-provider dialogue can help you accomplish brand objectives, increase patient satisfaction, deliver greater value to customers, and facilitate better patient outcomes. Dialogue is a critical part of your brand’s success.

Start giving it the attention it deserves.

  • Margot Mahannah

    Margot Mahannah is Senior Behaviorist at MicroMass Communications, Inc. Margot specializes in leveraging empirically driven behavioral approaches to enact behavior change for patients and providers to improve communication and patient outcomes. 

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