Life sciences companies have always been in the business of helping patients, but now they have become responsible for catering to patients’ needs in more ways than just providing treatment options. The ACA’s emphasis on improving outcomes has made it more important for life sciences companies to provide new solutions to help drive positive behavior change that leads to an overall healthy life.
Additionally, the rise of empowered patients has forced life sciences companies to provide better customer experiences for patients who are proactively searching for healthcare solutions. To help today’s pharma marketers excel at both of these endeavors, PM360 asked 10 experts:
- How can marketers step up and meet patients’ higher expectations for customer experiences more akin to what they find from other industries?
- What can marketers do to show their brand will add to the overall customer experience and help achieve better outcomes?
- How can pharma use data to deliver a more optimal customer experience? What metrics or measures should pharma specifically focus on?
- How can pharma best use emerging channels and/or technology to help enhance the customer experience and/or motivate behavior change?
- How do you determine the right time to reach patients along their healthcare journey and what channels are the best for reaching them in order to make the most impact?
- How can pharma better incorporate what patients actually want in their healthcare experience?
Today, the healthcare landscape is rapidly changing and a new mandate is emerging for brands to authentically engage with consumers if they want to inspire action. As the healthcare market becomes more cluttered and complex, as tech companies bring a new value exchange to the category with wearables, and as society becomes more health-aware with public policy remaining a mainstream media headline, pharma marketers should broaden their relationships with patients and healthcare providers to add value and relevancy. We have to move beyond a strictly disease-state purview toward a more comprehensive healthcare relationship with patients.
As such, pharma can and should better address peoples’ needs by evaluating the complete profile of an audience, not just as a patient or indication candidate, but as an individual and even more fundamentally, as a human.
Becoming a Trusted Source of Content
By learning about a patient or healthcare professional group beyond their disease or specialty—e.g., demographics, shopping habits, life aspirations, family context—pharma can become a reliable, empathetic, and trusted source of content that supports larger needs and spurs changes in behaviors. Leveraging all types of data, including qualitative and quantitative as well as solicited and unsolicited, is beneficial.
Marketers should use a qualitative mix of focus groups, one-on-ones, social listening, and ethnographies to get to know patients and healthcare providers outside the physician’s office. Then bolster this information with a data-driven approach that weaves in rich quantitative assets and allows marketers to assess how and when a company or brand should intersect with a patient journey to create action and mutually desirable outcomes. Once assessed, form a patient and healthcare professional advisory panel to co-create alongside your creative teams. This comprehensive approach enables marketing teams to truly understand people and position pharma as a partner to them—not strictly a marketer.
Healthcare is in the process of significant evolution, which goes beyond policies and mandates. It’s about people and their approach to healthcare. Patients are moving from passive recipients to active participants as they are bearing the burden for more costs. So what does this mean for pharma marketers? Evolved strategy and execution:
Clinical: Who is treating patients and how they are treating patients is changing. The rise of healthcare stakeholders in the treatment paradigm requires additional emphasis to be placed on strategies to support supplementary providers, inclusive of a coordinated and expanded view of HCP strategy. Pharmacists, for example, have become the most accessible providers and have personal relationships with patients that cannot be underestimated.
Financial: Patients are bearing more financial burden for medications. It is critical that brands not only evaluate levers to reduce out-of-pocket costs, but also effectively communicate the value of the medication to patients—directly.
Operational: Channels of patient engagement and education have changed. It is important that marketers no longer wait to engage patients in highly used channels. Mobile is the way most patients communicate, and can provide significant returns (up to 3x) when engaged appropriately. Brand conversations are happening across social media. Brands need to look at appropriately engaging in these conversations to address adherence barriers and provide support as challenges are identified.
Behavioral: Patients are often juggling multiple co-morbidities, and physicians have less time to spend with them. This is contributing to reports that approximately half of patients don’t remember the doctor’s directions as they walked out of the office. Helping patients understand their medication and overcome barriers with support services is more critical than ever—and has shown adherence increases of up to 40%.
A myriad of tools are out there to help marketers understand how to connect with patients through the right channel, at the right time, and in the right format. But there is definitely room for improvement in ensuring that those interactions between brands and patients are actually helping patients. Some marketers will employ something like native advertising and convince themselves it’s less intrusive because their brand message blends in with the content. Patients are smarter than that and can wind up thinking less of a brand if that connection doesn’t provide them with real utility. Think of the brands that enjoy the highest levels of loyalty—one thing they all have in common is a deep, authentic desire to provide real value to their customers at every point in their journey. Pharma has made progress towards this (innumerable unbranded campaigns come to mind) but still has a ways to go. When that happens, expect to see patient trust in pharma advertising rise quickly.
Incorporating Patient Insights
I was encouraged to see patient advocacy groups in attendance at one of the larger pharma conferences earlier this year. These groups can help marketers, for instance, understand what it’s like to be a cancer patient navigating his or her way through insurance plan changes and worrying about gaining access to specialists. That level of insight can and should have a drastic impact on how we as marketers think about connecting with those patients. You might end up focusing more on education or teaching them how to find the right specialist, versus hitting them over the head with your brand hammer. Ultimately, it’s one thing to uncover patient insights, but it’s quite another to use those insights constructively in a way that actually improves patient outcomes. That’s our responsibility to patients. Otherwise we’re in this for all the wrong reasons.
One aspect involved with helping to improve the overall customer experience is making it as easy as possible to obtain the manufacturer’s specific therapy. Oftentimes, that means having a “HUB” program that serves as a single point of contact for the patient as well as the physician’s office. Personally, I feel that one of the greatest reasons patients stop their therapy has to do with the ease of use for the product. It is the same for the physician’s office. If obtaining the therapy is too much work (for the patient and/or the physician) then they will likely use another product.
Using a HUB Approach
However, when a manufacturer has a HUB Reimbursement program, it makes the process much easier for everyone involved as these kind of programs often will verify the benefits for the patient, help with the prior authorization process, help with the claim denial and appeal assistance, and offer co-pay support as well as offering a patient assistance program. Another great aspect of these programs are Field Reimbursement Managers (FRMs) who are able to help remove barriers to patient access by educating providers on local and regional payer issues, coding changes, and appropriate claim submission. FRMs can also help with the appeal process if there is a denied claim. Additionally, they are able to spend time in the office—really serving as an extension of the physician’s office. With all of these services, HUB Reimbursement programs and FRMs are able to add to the customer experience and help achieve better outcomes.
Pharmaceutical companies are changing the conversations with patients and healthcare consumers, evolving from being product-focused to placing a greater emphasis on improving quality of life and health outcomes. When developing a patient support or adherence program, it is critical to understand the patient’s journey, which includes the disease state, treatment options, and socio-economic conditions impacting the patient. What offers the most value for patients is providing tools and resources they need to live the best life possible. This includes tools for the caregivers as well.
For instance, the most successful adherence programs conduct a barrier assessment with patients and create communications to help patients overcome identified challenges. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Building a customized program that meets the specific needs of the patient, and then delivering that information through the right channel, can make all the difference in program retention and patient outcomes.
Feedback Creates Better Programs
In order to gain actionable data from adherence programs, the key stakeholders need to align on program metrics prior to script development and configuration of the selected CRM platform. Opportunities for patient feedback and collection of other data points that support program metrics can then be included in the program dialogue and provide real-time insights on the program to allow for continuous program improvement.
Beyond having talent skilled in motivational interviewing to uncover adherence barriers, companies need to collect feedback on program effectiveness. Implementing a customer satisfaction survey can reveal the strengths of programs and opportunities for improvement. The key to successful programs is keeping the patient engaged and providing relevant content that keeps the conversation going. Recognizing that it’s not only the message you are delivering—but how the patient is receiving the information and using it—is critical to continued success and retention in adherence programs.
Pharma marketers can focus on two main areas to drive patient engagement and improve the overall patient experience: 1) ruthlessly pursue making desired patient behaviors as easy as possible to do; and 2) figure out how to add some well-timed “surprise and delight” patient interactions.
Regarding the first point, it continues to baffle me that most marketers think they can utter some magical words that will motivate patients to take better care of themselves and do everything they are “supposed” to do going forward.
Behavioral scientists like BJ Fogg have been telling us for the better part of this decade that making behaviors easy to do is the best motivator. And he doesn’t mean our definition of easy. He means our patients’ definition, so the behavior has to be so easy and seamless that they’re barely aware they’re doing it. Think of opening an app once, and it automatically records key information over the next week and sends a report to the doctor. Ask patients to do as little as possible.
Surprise and Delight Interactions
Regarding well-timed “surprise and delight” patient interactions, it may help to think beyond just digital interaction and weighty subject matter. Some successful consumer marketers know their customers well beyond product, and use that knowledge—creatively—to forge a deeper bond.
I recently learned of two clever examples. Patrons of New York’s Drybar salons stop by for quick professional blowouts. But as they walk in, a doormat greets them with, “Nice shoes.” Why? Because Drybar knows their customers appreciate a compliment, especially delivered in a whimsical, unexpected manner.
Or go to some Wells Fargo ATMs on a Friday and the closing screen may say, “Happy Friday! Enjoy your weekend.” They have a pretty good idea why you’re there getting some cash.
Traditionally, marketers have focused solely on addressing functional and clinical needs of patients (i.e., access, reminders, and education). But in order to add value to the patient experience, pharma must address whole-patient needs. To accelerate optimal patient outcomes, marketers need to look through a broader, evidence-based lens that addresses both functional and psychosocial variables. Through the whole-patient lens, marketers can take patient offerings to the next level and deliver solutions that provide a valuable experience to patients and healthcare providers. To achieve this, marketers should ask themselves the following questions:
Am I starting with an evidence-based content strategy that addresses whole-patient needs?
Content should absolutely address functional and clinical needs (e.g., condition info, product administration). But content must also address underlying beliefs and behaviors that are barriers to optimal outcomes.
For example, women participating in adjuvant breast cancer therapy no longer want to focus on their condition, but rather take whatever steps they can to return to optimal health. Brands seeking to provide a valuable experience for this audience should focus less on disease and product information and develop content that actively helps women create their new normal.
Am I delivering an experience for patients that actively shifts attitudes and builds skills?
Message-based approaches only passively deliver tips and education—patients need more than knowledge to improve health outcomes. For instance, patients with recurrent cancer on oral oncolytics are seeing providers less frequently and feel removed from the healthcare system. This often leads to gaps in communicating important info to their providers. Providing patients with a passive list of topics to discuss is rarely effective. Marketers can develop active experiences that use evidence-based techniques (i.e., observational learning and problem-solving) to motivate patients and provide the skills they need to have an effective discussion.
Patient experiences are complex interactions filled with challenges, opportunities, interactions, questions, answers, and the need for assistance. Customer Experience (CX) Marketing helps brands “walk in their customers’ shoes,” and gain a level of empathy that is essential to delivering a great experience for every stakeholder with whom patients interact (MDs, RNs, NPs, payers, etc.).
As an industry, we’ve typically looked at the patient journey through a “behavioral” lens—patients experience symptoms, they go to their doctors, they’re diagnosed, they receive an Rx, a subset fill the Rx and a large group doesn’t, and eventually some become non-adherent. The rise in power of the payers added additional steps, but the patient journey has always been defined by the behavioral actions a patient takes from Step A to B to C, etc. Once the “journey” is defined, marketers then use primary market research to define the patient insights specific to these different stages and develop communications accordingly.
While understanding these “behaviors” is important, it’s not the key to behavioral “change.” Instead, it’s important to identify the “key moments of impact” when patients are most receptive to messaging and create “experiences” based on what patients and their HCPs are thinking, feeling, and doing during these key moments—where decisions are being made, what language gaps exist between patients and their doctors, where the brand and its competitors’ current programs are in relation to patient needs during each of these key moments, where they are making an impact, and where there are gaps.
Once marketers understand what’s actually happening at each stage of the journey, and who’s involved, the brand can depict experiences and treatment endeavors (patient journeys), relevantly inserting its messages to optimize these key moments of impact and enhance the patient experiences. Only then does the brand walk in the customer’s shoes.
Marketers should provide patients and caregivers with the same types of resources that consumers in any other category expect, such as access to information, mobile tools, real-time data, even reviews and ratings of providers. But that’s not enough, because managing an acute or chronic condition is more complex and emotionally fraught than purchasing a coffee maker. By engaging customers in almost every phase of the product lifecycle—not just at the end, when the product is about to launch—brands not only demonstrate good intent, but actually enhance their likelihood of achieving better outcomes.
For instance, 250 Indian healthcare professionals, designers, educators, caregivers, and patients recently came together in a private online community. Together they created a new user manual for the insulin pen, specifically targeted to illiterate diabetic patients in rural India. It was so well-received that the company has since distributed the manuals in hospitals and patient care centers across India.
How to Ensure Your Messages Resonant
Longitudinal research with an opted-in, consistent group of patients has no substitute. Through mobile-enabled patient diaries and/or periodic check-ins, as well as more passive forms of data collection, researchers can learn an enormous amount about patients’ habits, searches, lapses, and changes in behavior and attitude, as well as the channels they use and the influencers they rely on. But the key to creating resonant and authentic messages in the first place is to engage patients as partners, not merely as “targets.”
For example, one of the newest companies going to market with a Hepatitis C treatment actively generated insights and ideas from individuals living with the disease and from HCPs treating it. Together, all of these stakeholders co-created disease education and support materials, successfully differentiating their product from other new drugs through the relevance and resonance of their communications.
For years, marketers have been applying a classic inside-out approach, in which initiatives are decided and developed in meeting rooms between brand teams and creative agencies. It’s time to change lanes and apply a truly customer-centric approach that respects the voice and needs of the customer. Rather than pushing products and promoting features, we should aim to build a mutual relationship in which we add value to our customers and form a partnership—this is called Entangled Marketing!
But how do we know what customers really want when our communication is defined in an agency meeting room? We can’t and we shouldn’t. Rather, we should truly try to understand our customers by listening, understanding, and acting accordingly.
The Unfiltered Patient Voice
I do not mean 10 patient interviews with predefined questions, but an unbiased look at their unmet information needs, engagement rates, and channel preferences. Today, looking at customer behavior online provides marketers with the largest focus group in the world as millions of patients, relatives, and HCPs very clearly express what they want from you. Every conversation in social media expresses a customer preference, every search in Google is a story about an unmet information (content) need, and a look at customer engagement in different channels is your customers telling you how and where they want to interact with you.
In other words, solid digital landscaping (Digital IQ) is insight into the unfiltered voice of the customer, which allows you to take a customer-centric (outside-in) approach. If you apply these insights onto the Customer Decision Journey (CDJ), you, as a marketer, are suddenly able to understand which message to deliver, in which format, and through which channel—at different stages of the journey—in order to most effectively engage with your customers and drive them along the decision journey.