Traditional message-based approaches look at the patient-provider dialogue from the outside, and they tell providers what to say about your brand to patients. Consider the impact if you were to look at the dialogue from the inside, which provides an opportunity for providers to build skills to enhance the conversation.
Pharma is in a position to influence the process of care by supporting providers when they communicate with patients. It’s time to view the patient and provider as a single, decision-making team and to develop solutions that are designed for a two-way exchange of information. Consider the following scenario:
A physician decided that a new, promising injectable treatment might be a good solution for a handful of patients who are not controlled on oral products. The physician told an eligible patient this was the right treatment approach. The physician also strongly encouraged the patient to get started with this new medication.
The patient’s response was surprising to the physician. The patient responded that the injectable treatment was “sprung on them.” The patient was confused, hesitant, scared, and didn’t understand why a change from their current treatment was necessary. After the meeting with the patient, the physician talked himself out of the new product and reasoned that patients don’t want this new injectable treatment option.
The physician did not have the proper conversation and failed to successfully start the patient on the new treatment. After the talk with the patient, the physician questioned whether this new product would be accepted by other patients and decided to stick with the treatment he knew best.
Are Patient-Provider Dialogue Challenges Causing Clinical Inertia?
Behavioral research suggests that even if providers intend to talk to their patients about new treatment approaches, sometimes the conversation never gets started. Like most behaviors, communication can be taught and influenced. Providers can build skills to address communication barriers with their patients. In the scenario, the provider didn’t approach the conversation with the patient’s needs and goals in mind, and the conversation quickly turned. When this happens, providers often revert back to what is comfortable—current “tried and true” treatments and approaches.
Even though it’s not intentional, clinical inertia resulting from poor dialogue could have a profound impact. Patients may not be made aware of options that could improve their quality of life or outcomes. Providers miss out on learning new approaches and expanding their treatment options. Finally, the brand missed an opportunity to create an advocate with providers and patients.
Patients and providers both contribute to clinical inertia. Patients regularly lack the skills to engage in an effective discussion. Many are overwhelmed or scared about disease progression and may be reluctant to try a new treatment, whereas providers fall back into routines that are comfortable and familiar. They may not have the confidence to prescribe a new treatment or believe it will be difficult for patients to invest in a new approach.
These behaviors and preconceived notions get in the way of patients and providers having open, two-way conversations. Doctor discussion guides don’t change entrenched beliefs and behaviors for patients—or providers for that matter.
How Can Pharma Help Providers Optimize Communication With Their Patients?
- Move past knowledge. Although knowledge is important, it is not enough to impact behavior. Conventional, message-based approaches fall short because they focus solely on raising awareness of new products and their benefits. Pharma should not assume that providers will have an effective dialogue with their patients about their products. Instead, pharma should focus on the “how,” rather than the “what,” and do more to actively promote an optimal dialogue with patients.
- Increase motivation. Providers who understand the impact that an improved patient-provider dialogue can have are more motivated to make changes that could lead to optimal patient outcomes. Raising awareness about the use of technical language, focusing on treatment risks instead of benefits, and leaving out patient preferences and goals in the treatment discussion are factors that providers can improve. By understanding these factors, pharma can encourage providers to learn more about how to improve their communication skills with patients.
- Build skills. Communication is something that can be learned and changed. In fact, effective communication is not just about having a good bedside manner—it’s a skill. Providers have the clinical know-how, but they often do not receive training in communication techniques that can support the patient and lead to optimal outcomes.
Evidence-based Approaches Change Behavior
It’s not our position to tell providers that they’re doing something wrong. Instead, we present them with opportunities that improve patient care. Providers can benefit from evidence-based approaches that help fill gaps in the treatment discussion.
- Motivational Interviewing. Motivational interviewing helps providers quickly uncover patients’ needs and barriers and helps build a rapport between them. This approach results in increased collaboration, more productive conversations, and enhanced patient motivation to make changes.
- Shared Decision Making. Shared decision making incorporates providers’ scientific and clinical knowledge and experience, as well as patients’ personal preferences and goals. Ultimately, providers and patients work together to make decisions about the course of action to improve outcomes.
- Teach Back Method. With this approach, providers ensure that patients leave their office confident in knowing how to perform a specific behavior (e.g., using a device, taking medicine, making the right food choices). After receiving instructions, patients explain to providers the process that they have just learned. Then, providers offer feedback to help patients perfect their method.
These approaches are key in preparing healthcare providers to obtain better outcomes with a new treatment. Furthermore, they strengthen the connection between providers, patients, and brands. Enhancing the communication skills of providers and identifying patients’ needs will build and reinforce the trust that patients have with their providers.
Pharma can facilitate a more effective dialogue and ensure that treatment decisions align to patients’ goals, are tailored to patients’ real-world needs, and lead to optimal outcomes. They can do this by engaging partners with a specialized expertise to help improve communication skills founded on evidence-based approaches.
These solutions are fundamentally different because they engage providers in a way that changes how they behave rather than how they think.