Putting the ‘me’ into medicine

This is the first of a new monthly column addressing patient centricity and the transition to consumerized medicine and points to lessons that can be learned from the entertainment, luxury goods and retail industries.

Entrepreneurs and consumers: we all contribute to medicine now

Proselytizing about the impact of the digital space on medicine is all-consuming. Eric Topol, Past Editor of Medscape, Cardiologist and Digital Healthcare Evangelist, describes this as an age of  ‘The creative destruction of medicine’. The entrepreneurial onslaught of wearable devices, trackers, connected health systems, telemedicine and the amplification of patient empowerment through the megaphone of social media has changed medicine from the patrician, physician-led, sedulous practice to a more participatory, ‘fail forward’ approach.

Furthermore, customer entitlement has been enhanced in other sectors: accordingly we now approach healthcare with a ‘consumer’ mentality. Decisions in health are no longer the monopoly of the prescribing physician. Patients as consumers think:  "What options do we have, how can we personalize the experience and what quality of commitment will we have with the provider of the goods once the initial ‘buy’ is made? In short, we want to know about the ‘me’ in medicine – what will the doctor, health care organization, provider of a treatment do to help me look after me beyond the consultation or popping the pill? What will you do to make me the centre of your world.

 Patient centricity is founded through a trusted relationship

We are overburdened with data to justify the importance of digital support services for patients. The need for trackers, monitors and systems to facilitate and expedite communication between doctors and patients is established with demonstrable outcomes and numerous examples from the champions of real world data. Underpinning the academic arguments, the tools chosen to enable patient centricityare less important than accepting the obvious; the foundations of a good relationship are trust, intimacy and passion. That means putting your partner and their needs first.  As far as pharmaceutical engagement with customers is concerned there’s one other ingredient – permission.

Preconceptions that being social about our health is a new and therefore too-challenging thing are evaporating and rhetoric about pharma’s right as disease and solutions experts to communicate directly with patients in a socially connected age is diminishing. In an era that promotes pioneering and ‘patient power’, the ‘pull’ for information is driven by the customer not ‘pushed’ by the company. Relationship and conversational marketing is as old as romance itself - it’s about the quality of the relationship that being sociable about our health permits. The patient journey is truncated thanks to real-time health sociability and sharing between patients, physicians and organizations. There are lessons to be learned about this and what’s next from customer enagagement practices in other sectors.

Online dating and health filtration: personalization drives quality and compatibility

Historically, a new couple would develop their relationship through a 2-hour weekly date; we now have a 24/7 mobile, digital environment and a generational shift towards narrating the minutiae of your existence in Facebook or Twitter. Relationship dating sites like Match.com and eharmony.com pride themselves on their members putting themselves front and centre. You can specify the preferred looks, interests, hobbies of your next beau; you can state what you don’t want. You filter for compatibility. Sites such as Tinder, Grindr and 3some are overtly me-first; there’s little room for courting and it's straight meeting needs.

There are parallels in how we seek a ‘healthy match’; when patients research symptoms, treatments and healthcare providers they decide what will likely work for them using the experience of other patients. Sites like treatmentdiaries.com, patientslikeme.com and patientscreate.com provide personal health filtration systems and a vehicle to voice needs back to manufacturers. In addition, patient communities are repositories for clinical trial participants. Data exchange in a social environment builds intimacy, trust and a shared passion for new solutions. A patient-centered relationship prevails. 

Luxury item or retail – the battle for attention makes patients device-agnostic and alignment-seeking

In the world of luxury goods, the customer expects much from the provider beyond the purchase. A Senior Brand Manager at Omega described their 2014 customer as “extremely knowledgeable and active across multiple devices … [they] expect the brand to be accessible anywhere – they want to interact with the brand on their terms.”  Product providers in a multichannel world must keep up with customers – “consumers seem to be ahead on how they choose to use different media. Some media trends are difficult for the luxury sector to keep up with from a regulatory perspective  -  our customers like to connect using Snapchat, for example,  which is extremely protective about brand images. The rate of change of customer channel popularity makes it difficult to keep up-to-date when marketing teams have responsibilities across relationship activities that include traditional point-of-sale, events, etc, so just adding digital channels to a relationship isn’t as simple as it sounds".

In the future, we will see this segue to ‘healthy choice loyalty’ where healthier contents in your trolley earn you health points. Pharma companies that position themselves in the centre of existing patient lives establish a loyalty predisposition for the future.

For the brand managers at Rolex, relationship centricity meant partnering with other companies important to their customers. The Rolex “Daily briefing” section within ‘The Week’ (a current affairs publication) for example,saw Rolex aligning with a media partner to give customers additional value. Rolex interweaved their brand DNA into a publication already of value to their customers – saving time and thereby capturing the main asset of the digital age – customer attention.

For the pharmaceutical industry, it is possible to align with the daily life and consumption partners of patients – to build a trusted relationship with the companies with whom patients are already loyal. Health entitlement is clear – patients want 24/7 accessibility to data, doctors and companies: they also value initiatives that nudge ongoing behavioral changes rather than remonstrate for poor health choices in their past. A good example of this is witnessed through the alignment of health and retail loyalty. In the UK, Sanofi have aligned with Tesco (a major supermarket) to provide awareness about healthy eating as part of addressing the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Currently that includes shared provision of information and lifestyle education. In the future, we will see this segue to ‘healthy choice loyalty’ where healthier contents in your trolley earn you health points. Pharma companies that position themselves in the centre of existing patient lives establish a loyalty predisposition for the future.

Laughter is the best medicine? Patients want to be entertained and supported alongside their treatment

Focus is often on the clinical outcomes and neglects the desire to share the emotional experience of overcoming an illness or adapting to living with a chronic condition".

Within the highly-regulated pharmaceutical industry, we can forget that medicines are made to improve the quality of people’s lives -  making their lives happier, longer, more comfortable. Focus is often on the clinical outcomes and neglects the desire to share the emotional experience of overcoming an illness or adapting to living with a chronic condition. Social media in particular has injected the human endeavor to share and support back into healthcare. We like to be enthused and entertained about our health as much as we need to seek support when we feel overwhelmed by poor health. Benjamin Tilly, Multichannel Manager at GSK joined the pharmaceutical industry from the BBC. He describes the customer of 2014 as, “increasingly demanding, someone who expects the news to be up-to-the-second with in-depth analysis and commentary. The BBC is considered a de facto news source encompassing all news-worthy stories. People are expectant.” Ben draw parallels with the increasingly-expectant healthcare consumer who wants info, advice, support, experts and up-to-the-second news stories from organizations like the pharmaceutical industry. Ben explains that “being revered as the BBC, it was beholden of us to use all the channels preferred by our customers and to procure the best talent in the industry to bring innovative solutions through for customers – the next level of customer engagement in the entertainment industry was to provide personalized access to programs that matches customer’s developing needs, habits and is satisfying”.

This is the desire for the empowered patient looking for a personalized health system that entertains as well as educates.  Patients are seeking to store, share and identify patterns of health that are unique to them but add to the data pool to enhance the greater good. Organizations such as ‘23andme’ permit prediction of likely health challenges to which a personal health budget of the future can be assigned. Along with the unprecedented demand for self-tracking devices, the ability to create patient sharing opportunities through platform templates like those in ‘HealthUnlocked’ and the ubiquitous reach to specialized health communities to make us all health entrepreneurs and connected protagonists, patients are becoming victorious over disease rather than victims of it and they want the pharmaceutical industry to support patient-centered decisions.

Next article: How are companies like Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi approaching patient centricity?

Emma D'Arcy has been a leader, lobbyist and innovator in healthcare and proponent of the value insights gained from socialized health and patient centricity for 20 years. A medical biochemist who is completing phd research about the impact of social media on medicine, Emma helps the pharma industry upskill and adapt to the era of participatory medicine where everyone is a consumer and a contributor. When she isn't writing articles, chairing events or educating industry, Emma is writing poetry - or failing to parent 2 children, a large dog and an irascible cat.




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