Fostering Collaborative Patient-Physician and Patient-Patient Relationships

It is not unusual for a patient to go through a physical, emotional and financial roller coaster before getting a diagnosis. I experienced the acute onset of diarrhea following a trip to the Jersey Shore. It persisted and one evening I was rushed to the ER due to severe stomach pain, low blood pressure and a host of other symptoms.

Treatment with antibiotics eliminated the diarrhea and I was admitted for observation. Six blood draws, one EKG, one CT Scan, exams by nearly 20 HCPs, and $11,000 later, I was discharged. My diagnosis? Discontinue antibiotics and follow-up with a PCP in the hospital’s clinic. The medical staff said they suspected I had some unidentified viral infection. I told them that what I had was a bacterial infection.

Diarrhea returned once the antibiotics were discontinued. Follow-up with the hospital PCP proved futile. What was so obviously a bacterial infection to me, was again refuted. I was told to follow-up in three or four months!

When the infection spread to my bladder, I emailed my former PCP and asked for antibiotics. Simple as that, he called in the prescription, I took the pills and immediately was healed. My brother subsequently pointed me to a news story about NJ beach closings due to bacterial contamination of the water. The ER doctors should have collaborated with me on my diagnosis and treatment.

Pharma at the Intersection of Patient to Physician Relationships

Fortunately there are pharma-sponsored tools in some disease categories that foster collaboration between patients and their doctors, and enable improved patient health across the board. Let’s review a few of these tools.

PillCam SB for Crohn’s disease ( is a new version of the pill camera capsule that is the size and shape of a pill and contains a tiny camera to take images of the gastrointestinal tract. The new version was developed to reach the small bowel, which cannot be reached by colonoscopy, and better diagnose Crohn’s disease. What I find interesting in the way of patient-physician collaboration is that uptake was created only with a DTC campaign (see Figure 1)—there was no physician outreach. Educated and empowered patients collaborated with their gastroenterologists on diagnosis and drove use of the PillCam (and increased sales for the manufacturer).


The KidneyAPPetite ( from Sanofi Renal and The American Kidney Fund helps patients with chronic kidney disease who are on dialysis. This patient population needs to deeply manage what they eat and drink to maintain proper nutrient and fluid levels, particularly daily limits of phosphorus, sodium and potassium. A task that is undoubtedly laborious and difficult to comply with, but is vital to patient health. KidneyAPPetite helps patients to track, manage and adjust their nutrition and generates reports that can be shared with the renal dietician and nephrologist. This is a prime example of pharma identifying a gap in patient needs and responding with something of high value.

Allora ( is a dynamic iPad sales rep platform tied into CRM that enables a digital detail customized to each physician’s need and interests. With tools that support patient education integrated into the platform, it enhances both the sales rep-physician relationship and the physician-patient relationship. Videos and other patient education materials shared between the rep and the doctor can then be sent from the doctor to the patient, or shared at point of care during the patient’s exam.

Pharma at the Intersection of Patient to Patient Relationships

In the June issue of PM360, I wrote about The Extraordinary Power of Online Patients ( Specifically, I looked at why patient to patient social media affects decision points, behaviors and health outcomes. Fostering such interactions in social media seems to elude pharma companies. But it can be done well if pharma knows the space and their place in it. Let’s review a few successful cases.

Sanofi Diabetes has a well thought out digital content strategy that puts patients first, versus putting Rx brands first. Their unbranded website, The Diabetes Experience (, blog (, Twitter (@Diabetes_Sanofi) and Facebook pages (—as well as other assets—aggregate high-value content and resources related to lifestyle and diabetes from across the web (see Figure 2). These social hubs in which people touched by diabetes can be informed and empowered enhance Sanofi Diabetes’ value to customers, as well as provide a very powerful listening platform for Sanofi Diabetes. A lot of pharma companies say they put patients first, but Sanofi Diabetes has actually shown us how it’s done the right way.


In the early 2000s before the term “SocMed” even existed, the MSwatch online patient forum was launched by Teva’s central nervous system division—the manufacturer of Copaxone for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The MSwatch online patient forum eventually was shutdown, although a Canadian website ( exists today. Patients found the community so valuable that they created to continue sharing and supporting each other. The key takeaway is that pharma can foster lasting relationships in the patient to patient community.

The Bottom Line

The considerable shift to digital health presents vast opportunities for pharma to engage with patients at points along their journeys that intersect patient to patient and patient to physician relationships. Fundamental to fostering meaningful engagements is the understanding of patient needs and behaviors and identifying the gaps wherein these needs are not fully met. Just as technology has remade the rest of our world, so too has it remade the management and monitoring of healthcare—putting that literally in the palms of our hands and at our fingertips.

  • Cheryl Ann Borne

    Cheryl Ann Borne is a digital marketing strategy consultant and an obesity health activist with significant experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Writing as “My Bariatric Life” on Remedy Health Media’s HealthCentral site, she has 65,000 unique monthly readers.


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