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Be Cool: Lessons on Engaging Young Patients
Every day millions of children are diagnosed with medical conditions they don’t understand, but initiatives that aim to help kids learn about health and disease in an exciting, non-threatening way are rare.
Although patient-centricity has been a healthcare buzzword of the last few years, pharma and other stakeholders seem to have focused all their efforts on adult patients, forgetting the children who struggle with diseases. Despite an obvious need to educate young people about their own conditions, as well as those that affect their loved ones, there seems to be a gap in the market. Why are kids left out of patient-centric philosophy?
“We’re living in the legacy of past physicians,” said Dr. Kate Hersov, Co-Founder & CEO of Medikidz, the only company on the market specializing in providing medical information for kids. “It wasn’t so long ago when there was this belief that there was no need to educate or inform – all a doctor had to do was to treat. In recent decades, it has changed, but very much in the adult population. In the pediatric patients, the awareness of patient-centricity was left behind. It’s only recently that there has been this acknowledgment that it is just as important for a young person to be put at the heart of their care, to be empowered, to achieve self-management.”
Dr. Hersov believes that as the world moves forward, there will be more information available for kids, and that there is a big role for the industry to play in this shift. Although the pediatric population doesn’t drive much revenue, investing in services aimed at children could help pharma gain trust.
“The industry need to realize that in pediatrics pill plus needs to be present, and that education needs to be at the heart of the service. Enabling young people to access information in their language in whatever format is most appropriate – be it print, digital, web, or video – will help improve adherence,” Dr. Hersov said. “The industry is under pressure to bring value, to demonstrate that their drugs deliver better outcomes, and to build trust partnerships with disease stakeholders. In pediatrics, we’re very well-positioned to help.”
Launched in 2009, Medikidz was born out of a frustration of two pediatricians, who were unable to provide children with resources to help educate them about treatments and diagnoses.
“There was a global lack of educational materials to drive an understanding of conditions and take away the fear that often comes with a new medical diagnosis,” Dr. Hersov explained. “Ultimately, better awareness drives better outcomes, and that is what this is all about.”
Founded by Dr. Hersov and her colleague, Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair, Medikidz is a series of comic books that explains conditions like diabetes, autism, and depression, among others (there are over a 100 titles available at the moment, and two new books are released each month), as well as associated treatments and procedures. The ‘Medikidz’ are a gang of five larger-than-life superheroes from outer space, each a specialist in a different part of the body. The characters are designed to be fun and appealing to young people in order to be able to entertain, as well as educate them about serious medical issues.
“When we started, we did a lot of research into how to communicate with and engage an audience of young people. The answer was: superheroes and comic books. What resonated with us was that is spanned a wide age range, crossed cultural boundaries, didn’t require high levels of literacy, it’s immediately engaging and empowering. But most importantly, kids think it’s cool, and so do many adults", Dr. Hersov added. Medikidz have now distributed over 4 million copies around the world, spanning 50 countries and 30 different languages.
How is it distributed? The main aspect of Medikidz is partnerships with leading companies within the healthcare industry, as well as stakeholders within a given disease community. The books are distributed via industry partners straight to the hands of physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Medikidz ambition is to create a global community of people who are empowered, educated, and health-aware.
“Empowering is about being in control. Often with medical conditions, there is this feeling that you’re not in control, and what we’re doing is enabling people to have access to the right information, so they can make a choice in their healthcare, and have the power to be a part of their own path to wellness,” Dr. Hersov stated.
“We are driving a new app development for disease management as well as a new website for children, full of medical information for young people, like WebMD, but for kids. Integrated within that will be a fully-moderated, safe social network for young people to globally connect".
But comic books are not enough to create a truly empowered community. This is why the company is now looking for ways to become exciting for young people in the digital space.
“We are driving a new app development for disease management as well as a new website for children, full of medical information for young people, like WebMD, but for kids. Integrated within that will be a fully-moderated, safe social network for young people to globally connect. We want to be able to facilitate a young person finding a friend, perhaps on the other side of the world, to share the experience, the empathy, and to offer support,” Dr. Hersov explained. The advantage of this social network over Facebook is that Medikidz provide anonymity, which answers to the young person’s desire to be invisible, to have a safe place where they can share their condition without being seen. “Young people with an illness are a very vulnerable group, so a lot of sensitivity has to be given within this community. There is a need to facilitate the support. Facebook doesn’t do that", Dr. Hersov added.
The cornerstone of Medikidz is credibility and collaboration. The brand has been accredited with the information standard, which is the Department of Health’s recognition of organizations which produce reliable, credible, and evidence-based information.
“We put great focus on establishing credibility of the brand by creating partnerships with preeminent names within the global medical community before going into a disease area,” Dr. Hersov described.
Each Medikidz title is peer-reviewed by the world’s leading expert within the specialty – there are more than 600 experts worldwide who have acted as Medikidz peer-reviewers e.g. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, the premier researcher in the field of autism– and the brand is endorsed by hundreds of highly regarded institutions like the European Society of Endocrinology, or the International Organization for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “We are one of the world’s most endorsed medical organizations,” Hersov laughed.
Pediatric patients can no longer be kept on the sidelines of patient-centricity. They deserve to be treated as partners in their own care plan, and the industry should reach out to them. Learning from Medikidz, pharma has an opportunity to create services that will be successful among young patients, allowing pharmaceuticals to gain public trust.
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