Ultimately, patients have to be at the center of everything companies in the life sciences industry do. It may not always seem like that is the case to those outside the industry—or even some within the industry—but if companies aren’t operating with the viewpoint that the patient is what matters most, then they are doing something wrong. That means companies have to do a better job of determining what matters most to patients, especially at this time when the majority of patients have seen their typical healthcare experience disrupted due to the global pandemic. To best determine what it is that patients value, PM360 turned to companies that have a vast amount of experience working directly with patients, whether that is through patient communities, ambassador programs, recruitment for marketing campaigns, a network of patient-written blogs and resources, or something else—these companies have the ability to tap directly into the insight of patients. So, we asked them:
- What has impacted patients the most from the current pandemic? How can pharma companies best serve their needs during this time?
- What services, programs, or offerings do patients find most valuable from pharma companies besides the treatments they provide? What services would they most like to see from pharma companies they don’t currently get or see enough of?
- What do patients want to see in terms of advertising from pharma companies? What do they find most valuable about ad campaigns geared toward patients? What do they think is missing from these types of campaigns?
- Whose perspectives do patients value the most? Who or where are they most likely to turn for information or advice about their disease or treatments options?
- How else would patients like to see pharma deliver more value to them? What matters most to them that the industry can help provide?
The pandemic situation could significantly affect retention and new patient starts if we don’t fully understand the challenges patients are facing and quickly implement solutions to address their needs. According to our “COVID-19: Patient Insights” survey of 678 patients, 55% had already started to experience disruptions of their treatment routine due to COVID-19 by the second half of March. Of those, 31% had to make changes to their doctor’s appointments, 28% started having telehealth appointments, 18% faced challenges with fulfilling prescriptions, 8% had to change how to get to and from treatment, 5% had to skip treatments to avoid running out of medication, and 5% had to stop/suspend treatment altogether.
To help them during this time, the most requested service by patients (53%) was interactive virtual patient programs, where such resources could be augmented by firsthand experiences from others. The majority of patients (51%) also wanted regularly updated online resources in regards to how COVID-19 interacts with their condition and the products that treat it. Other services they valued included educational webinars (47%), small virtual groups with other patients (36%), downloadable resources (36%), financial support resources (35%), phone/virtual assistance from health educators (31%), and one-on-one connections with other patients (29%).
While HCPs continue to be the patients’ preferred source of information, the reliance on a number of other sources dramatically spiked during the pandemic. The most notable shifts are: HCPs down from 89% to 64%, government websites up from 29% to 54%, national TV news up from 19% to 45%, cable TV news up from 14% to 33%, local news websites up from 12% to 27%, and national news websites up from 13% to 27%. These shifts present a key opportunity for DTC brands to engage patients via TV and digital channels both on national and local levels.
To understand what patients value, pharma needs to understand more about what people consider to be important or useful to their health and healthcare.
Plain and simple: As people are increasingly out of work and dealing with insurance issues during the coronavirus pandemic, patients see value in access to and cost of treatments. Throughout Health Union’s online health communities, we see that people are very appreciative when they get access to cost savings, and then they share that information with other people in the community. That is why on a functional level, people always appreciate pharma ads that promote drug savings.
Pharma also needs to support patients on an emotional level by treating patients like human beings with nuanced, personal needs, not just end-users of a product. This is true for every aspect of advertising campaigns. For example, if a 1-800 number is associated with the campaign, there should be thought and coordination into how people’s needs will be met in a way that is consistent with the brand promise communicated through the ads.
Tech is Not the Answer
Sometimes, I fear pharma brands think technology is the best solution to deliver value, such as creating a mobile app or digital tracking tools. However, this shows pharma is overlooking the idea that people aren’t necessarily looking for a close relationship with a medication brand beyond access to treatments that will positively impact their health journeys. People’s physical, emotional, and social health concerns aren’t going to be solved, or even really addressed, by an app.
Pharma companies also must realize that people’s needs often change over time, so value can sometimes depend on a company’s ability to truly take people’s situations into consideration. Patients want companies who care about them as individuals, not just as a group of customers.
We may all be #InThisTogether, but for the 60% of Americans living with a chronic illness, the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly fraught. From the very first reports, it was clear COVID-19 was particularly dangerous for those with underlying conditions and compromised immunity. Staying home and socially isolating is nothing new to this group—it’s often essential year-round—but not having clearer information on how this infection could impact them was frustrating and anxiety-provoking. In fact, 35% of the more than 4,000 people surveyed by Remedy Health Media said they wanted clearer guidelines about how the virus impacted chronic life.
As a result, pharma marketers should be focused on creating condition-specific content. For example, coverage of the outbreak on our network of sites included the unique risks facing people with HIV, diabetes, heart disease, and more. As the country moves into the next phase of re-opening, continuing to provide this kind of laser-focus for each community will be crucial. The easing of restrictions may be a welcome relief to some, but until an uber-effective treatment or vaccine is available, the stress brought about by this pandemic will continue to take its toll. And for those living with chronic disease, that means very real consequences, whether it’s harder-to-manage blood sugar levels or a new flare-up of inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
One positive? It appears patients are staying in touch with their physicians, despite the obstacles. Nearly 70% report keeping up with their in-office visits, while another 20% communicate with their doctors via telemedicine, a number likely to be on the rise, according to a new audience feedback survey Remedy conducted. While there are no silver linings to COVID-19, its ripple effects have forced us to find new ways of staying connected, including with our healthcare team.
In our experience, patients continue to express their desire for credible information, for education, and for the tools to help to find and access them. They want to feel connected as they address and deal with their condition or the condition of a loved one. The current pandemic has not changed those desires but has intensified them.
The most effective way for patients to feel connected is to hear from real people who have a common shared experience. When patients feel more connected, they realize they are not alone. When they can see, hear, and communicate with someone with whom they can relate, it is much more empowering. Authenticity and a real voice are key.
Patients Want to See Pharma Cares
Patients are simultaneously sensitive to branded communications and content that are primarily promotional. They want to be heard and helped, not sold to or used as a data point. They are drawn to disease awareness marketing that is unbiased for its inherent educational value. The person or company that brings them that information becomes a trusted friend
More than anything, patients want pharma to care—to provide value beyond a drug or a treatment, and to become a trusted friend. Patients want pharma to “be there for them.” To make accessing useful information about their condition easier. To provide connections to other patients beyond “patient advocates,” even if only through digital or video. To use their vast resources and knowledge to provide relevant information and education about managing the condition they treat, in addition to just marketing. Patients want a more altruistic pharma—a pharma that cares about them as much as it cares about its own stockholders and market share. We continue to hear patients say about pharma, “Show me that you care, don’t just tell me.”
In recent months, we’ve surveyed thousands of people with chronic conditions among the 2.4 million registered members of MyHealthTeams’ 37 patient social networks. The feedback is consistent. “More Listening and Understanding” and “More Actionable Advice” substantially outrank “New Treatments” as what patients want most from doctors. COVID-19 has catalyzed this movement permanently. Things will not go back to the way they were before. Patients want to be treated as a whole person, not just a collection of symptoms. More early results we’re seeing that indicate what patients value most today are:
- Actionable Tips for At-Home Care: Patients are seeking ways to adapt their treatment regimens while staying home. For example, we’ve partnered with the Home Rehab Network to bring video-based tutorials on breathing exercises and techniques to help people keep their respiratory systems strong.
- Patient Education, On-Demand: Understanding symptoms, treatment options, how to take your meds—these are all important topics that can be addressed via on-demand video. For instance, MySpondylitisTeam teamed with UCB to launch an expert video series with Dr. Hillary Norton that helps people talk with their doctors about the signs and implications of Non-Radiographic Axial Spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpa).
- Doctor Q&A Online: Similarly, online Q&A with experts who provide condition-specific information about COVID-19 drives remarkable engagement. Tailored information such as this video discussion with Chicago rheumatologist Dr. Siddarth Tambar, is something chronic condition patients value greatly.
- Updates on Medication Availability, Adherence, and Affordability: Members of myRAteam and MyLupusTeam are concerned about the shortage of Plaquenil. Patients also have questions about continuing their therapies while COVID-19 is active. Companies can provide resources to help guide those conversations with doctors, such as general recommendations for MS treatments. It’s also important to surface available resources to help patients deal with any financial fallout from COVID-19.
Patients want to see authentic, trustworthy content from pharma companies. For ad campaigns to be successful, they should be built in partnership with real patients. Pharma companies already face an uphill battle being under strict regulatory constraints limiting their creative ability. We hear time and again from the members of our network of patient leaders that a pharma message must be transparent, useful for patients, and emotional to make an impact. The messaging must also be in a language that patients can understand.
In a recent survey, WEGO Health asked more than 300 patients from dozens of health conditions, “What are the top three types of information or support resources from a pharmaceutical company that are most valuable to chronic care patients?” The findings revealed that 98.5% want to learn more about help paying for medications followed by medication management at 82.5%. Yet, when asked how aware patients are of the financial support services provided by pharmaceutical companies, 61% shared that they are either “not at all aware” or “only somewhat aware” of these services.
Patient Support During COVID
With the current pandemic, patients are looking to pharma companies to provide support in the form of telehealth services, updates on medication access and supply, and educational resources specific to condition management. They do not expect pharma companies to slow down on their advertising efforts but rather provide support to help patients understand COVID-19 and their medical conditions as well as any risk should they become infected.
Pharma needs to meet patients where they are engaging on social media and engage in an authentic way by using the patient voice. Patient Leaders are ready to partner and want to be included in every step. As a pharma marketer, you don’t want to let this opportunity pass you by.