PM360’s Masterclass of Storytelling 2023 AstraZeneca and Axiom

In Their Own Words: Patients’ Experiences with Liver Cancer

AstraZeneca and Axiom

AstraZeneca needed to prepare their sales force for the launch of their first liver cancer therapy. Prognosis can be poor for patients with liver cancer; this wasn’t just about selling a product, but helping the team understand what patients and their caregivers are going through. Axiom also identified that there was a real desire from AstraZeneca to return to in-person training post-COVID, after two years of virtual programs.

To help develop an in-person workshop for their teams, AstraZeneca provided Axiom with market research about how patients move through the care continuum and how clinicians interact with them at different stages of the patient journey. Crucially, Axiom also had access to journals, which highlighted the emotional and physical impact of liver cancer on patients and their families.

The Attendee Journey

For this workshop, Axiom wanted to take attendees on a journey with these patients. They used the real patient journals to create “patients” Clarence and Kristen and told their stories in each of our workshop spaces. Although Clarence and Kristen were not real people, the experiences and feelings described were genuine and were a key tool to help attendees empathize with what patients are going through.

Axiom also used panels filled with patient quotations throughout the workshop and incorporated bold typography, so that their voice was always at the heart of the experience. In total, they developed four experiential spaces that were designed to support each chapter of the patients’ stories.

1. Discover the Patient

When attendees arrived for the workshop, they entered the “Discover the Patient” space and were given a “discovery packet” about either Clarence or Kristen, although they would ultimately experience both journeys. This contained information about their background, hobbies, and family life, along with thought starter questions to help attendees gather any other information they might need. Each of the “patients” had a different type of liver cancer, so groups would follow one journey and then swap to experience another.

2. Elevating Patient Voices

The next phase of the journey took attendees to “Elevating Patient Voices,” where Axiom had created four audio tracks from each of the two “patients.” The audio told the story of their diagnosis, having to tell loved ones, and the support they have received from HCPs. These were voiced by acting talent to better highlight these personal experiences. In this section, Axiom also used smell to evoke “Clarence” and “Kristen’s” memories. For example, the smell of the sea reflected a holiday and the scent of pine echoed a recent journey to a lake.

3. Physicians’ Perspectives

“Physicians’ Perspectives” was the third area of the storytelling journey. Here, Axiom had produced a narrated presentation on the treatment landscape for patients, alongside printed panels featuring the emotions and frustrations of HCPs who are treating them. This mirrored the patient quotation panels and highlighted the complex emotions felt by everyone involved in this care pathway.

4. Time for Reflection

Finally, attendees arrived at the “Time for Reflection and Engagement.” Here, Axiom had placed objects belonging to the “patients” on shelves within the room, such as a compass or a “Best Grandpa” keyring. Again, this evoked the human and emotional experience behind the learning. At this stage, attendees were asked to write their own reflections on a card and pin them onto the specially created reflection wall. Not only was this a tactile way to participate, once again highlighting that in-person experience, but it meant that the physical space in this section gradually changed as more people added their cards. In other words, this was a dynamic experience, in which every single attendee could make their mark.

Storytelling Decisions

Every design decision made for this workshop was about creating a balance of clinical information, patient perspectives, and a real emotional impact. Lighting effects were considered throughout each space, with the brightest lighting reserved for the reflection area and the sense of hope and community that Axiom wanted to create. This was also designed as a group experience, to both enhance that immersive feel and make the most of being back together in person.

Although it was vital to the experience to have the authentic voices of patients from their journals, Axiom was also very mindful that these were real people’s medical details, emotions, and experiences. By working closely with brand and compliance teams, they ensured they respected patients’ privacy and did not use any identifying information.

Results

The “Reflection Wall” conversation cards captured attendees’ reactions to the experience in the moment. A sampling of the emotional responses include:

  • “It’s a heartbreaking journey. The strength and grit of the patient and their families is inspiring and admirable. Glad that our own humble efforts can potentially help alleviate and help give more time.’’
  • “You empower us to provide answers and guidance.”
  • “This really put me into a patient’s shoes. Very emotional…”
  • “The patient quotes were very powerful and really brought the patients’ perspective front and center.”
  •  “I feel a tremendous amount of compassion for not just Kristen, but her husband Adam, their kids, and family. This diagnosis completely upended their lives from the immediate course of extensive/debilitating treatments, to their future plans as a family. I also feel compassion for the MDT care team, who is also frustrated that they don’t have many answers to the patients’ questions and very limited treatment options.”

Following the Liver Patient Immersion, a survey was fielded to attendees: 93.6% strongly agreed or agreed that “by the end of this workshop, I was able to better understand the challenges patients face as they navigate through their journeys.” Additionally, 87.1% strongly agreed or agreed that “I found the Immersive Journey Experience to be valuable and the sessions will enhance my current role.”

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