Monday, February 29, 2016

Digital Pharma in the Real World: Are We Fighting With the Patient?

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I read an article recently in Medscape, interestingly titled “Fighting with Families Over Patient Care: How Much Does the Patient Want to Know?” by Batya Swift Yasgur. Because I spend a lot of my time thinking about health disparities, I found the article’s emphasis on integrating cultural competency in the aiding decision-making both interesting and useful.

That said, I keep coming back to the headline, and putting it into the larger framework of patient experience.  A suffering patient and frightened caregiver find themselves facing the realities of an increasingly patient-driven yet still confusing system. Barely understanding their diagnoses, patients have to select from a dizzying array of treatment options. Their choices are laid out, they dutifully parrot back the information they’re given, and off they go, winding their way through a maze of blood tests, scans, specialist visits, interactions with insurers, surgeries, device implantations, infusion centers, etc. 

So should we assume we know what any patient wants or needs at the most critical moments in their specific patient journey? 

We’re coming up on National Patient Safety Week on March 13-19, a good time to revisit that Patient Journey-mapping project that keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the pile. 

It’s a good time to recognize that even when they know how to proceed, patients may be intimidated, terrified, or even angered by everything done to provide care.  Cold and colorless treatment rooms, a rushed ER, the literally and figuratively sterile equipment surrounding them. The prospect of something being removed from or inserted into the one thing they feel they can control – their bodies. 

Clinicians and care coordinators bear the brunt of this emotional tidal wave.  But they must focus on getting the patient into appropriate care and ensure an optimal outcome. They need to get a decision out of a patient, whether or not she/he is able to clearly make one.

At any point in the continuum of care, whether or not a patient's “protest” leaves their mouth, the process of getting into treatment may be creating unseen resentment of being forced to face what’s wrong with their own body. So yes, we may be fighting with patients. Yet we have a critical weapon in our arsenal. An intimate, trusted information pathway through which they are very accustomed to handling good and bad news and information. Mobile technology.

Peter Dannenfelser of Janssen Pharmaceuticals both studies and helps build this industry-to-patient connection. As he said in an interview at the @ePharma Summit in 2013, ”we have a very unique opportunity with digital technology to reach a customer, whether a healthcare professional, or a patient, with the precise information they want at exactly the right time”. He continued, “we’re all figuring out the best way to engage them in mobile, which is where they are spending more of their time.”  Reaching the patient at the touchpoints in her Patient Journey with the smartphone in her purse, we can also be supporting her and enabling her success beyond our portion of the continuum of care.

The first step in understanding and leveraging the Patient Journey to ensure high quality care and the best possible outcomes is to look at how they are treated at every point of contact with the larger healthcare system. This mapping effort should extend beyond the walls of your hospital or pharma brand planning team. EHR systems provide a limited window today, but they do show us a few steps in the path, looking at what patients have or haven’t done to get into care, where, and ultimately what happened medically after diagnoses and treatment.  

Market research and touchpoint auditing can identify the roadblocks we create, define consumer apertures and make information available when, where, and how they want to receive it, and leverage their connectivity and comfort with mobile tools as often as possible.  

And what if the patient is one of the13% of the US population who are immigrants, many unfamiliar with our byzantine system? What do we know about their information pathway – what they experience, vs. what a more acculturated patient may have? An eye to cultural competency is essential for patients and caregivers whose language preferences, literacy levels and levels of acculturation are hindering effective care, data readily available in the consumer-marketing world. 

Ultimately, the fight we should be waging is not against the patient. The fight, using every tool we have, should be for them.

I’ll be blogging live at the #ePharma16 Summit in NYC today. Watch for dispatches all day from the exciting presentations, and follow me at @SensisHealth @ePharma16 @ePharma throughout the conference.

Beatriz Mallory, VP, SensisHealth

Beatriz Mallory is a veteran healthcare and pharma marketer. She specializes in cross-cultural marketing and mitigating disparities throughout the healthcare system. She can be reached at, and she'll be a guest blogger at ePharma Summit 2016.

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