Listen to the Internet: The Patient Communication Opportunity
Zuzanna Fiminska examines the importance of, and numerous options for, a comprehensive patient communication strategy within the pharmaceutical industry.
Every minute, an estimated 200,000,000 emails are being sent, 200,000 search queries are being typed into Google, and nearly 700,000 new pieces of content are being added to Facebook. Much of that activity is health-related. In the past year, 59% of adults have looked online for health information, while 35% have used the Internet to figure out what medical condition they or another may have. About half of those “online diagnosers” talked to a clinician about what they found, and further 41% had their condition confirmed. At the same time more elderly people have joined online communities, often seeking advice on their health and, crucially, their medicine. Given those trends, any serious patient communication strategy must include a comprehensive social media plan, that is to say, listening to the Internet to ensure that concerns and conversations reach your organization.
“This is important,” said Tom de Bruin, a platform developer at jimmyteens.tv, a non-profit organization for teenagers and young adults affected by cancer. “Some can be embarrassed about their disease, but they still need to vent their emotions and go through their own coping process.”
Present pharma-to-client communication is “fixed format, FDA-compliant information provided by pharma/biotech to the patient with limited to zero interaction from the patient side,” said Dr Sanjay Bajpai, President of Institute of Pharmaceutical Management. This, he stressed, ensures that there is full compliance with the FDA regulations regarding promotion, education, and marketing, which, he explained, “relays little beyond the product label information.”
Telemedicine offers an alternative. The American Telemedicine Association defines telemedicine as the “use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients’ health status.” In other words, an organization that uses patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, and offers continuous medical education to employees via video, is a participant in telemedicine.
A positive example of a comprehensive telehealth strategy comes from Viterion TeleHealthcare, a business of Bayer Healthcare. Established in 2003 as a joint venture between Bayer and Panasonic, Viterion can comprehensively measure and monitor a patient’s condition from home, while helping to inform healthcare provider when additional intervention may be required. “It’s not a cure for everything but if used effectively within an overall care model it’s a very useful tool. We’ve been able to demonstrate as an industry that there are savings and efficiencies and quality of life improvements as a result of employing telehealth support networks,” said Rick Kates, Global Head of Viterion.
Kates has himself expressed the importance of a more holistic and well-rounded approach to patient support: “It’s about keeping people out of hospital and managing patients effectively. Telehealth can facilitate the improved delivery of healthcare more efficiently by playing the role as another touchpoint for the patient and healthcare provider, and getting patients involved in the day to day monitoring of their conditions.”
Digital patient groups
Patients often prefer talking to each other than to doctors, because the latter tend to underestimate their desire for information and have the wrong idea about how to deliver information. Patient support groups provide people affected by disease with what they feel is a safe atmosphere to share their concerns. Sixteen percent of people who look for health information online have in the past year tried to find others who might share the same health concerns. Additionally, 30% of Internet users have consulted online reviews or rankings of health care services or treatments, and 28% have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the past year. Pharma would greatly benefit by providing representatives from different areas of the pharmaceutical industry to answer questions, e.g. via webchat during on-line support group meetings.
An example of such support group is jimmyteens.tv. Founded in 2005, the group has won the Pfizer “Excellence in Oncology – Best Charitable Initiative award and the Royal Television Society Award.” The organization wants to start to partner with pharma to provide more factual information about drugs and treatments, so they not only offer emotional support, but are also a trusted resource for people who want to find out more about their disease.
Mobile apps are everywhere offering help with things like scheduling appointments, sticking with exercise, and health monitoring. On offer are programs that provide current pharmacology information detailing everything from availability to dosing guidelines (FIRSTLight), as well as mobile software that monitors vital signs and even records heard rate changes via a one-lead EKG (Lifewatch V). The most popular app, Medscape launched and provided by WebMD is the fastest, most comprehensive drug reference and interaction checker that covers 7,000 herbal, food supplements, over the counter, generic and brand information requests, boasting half a million physicians, 57,000 pharmacies, and over 5,000 hospitals as subscribers.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to improving communication with patients, or any stakeholders, but in the digital age, options for dialogue abound and should be seized by pharma. If you want to learn more about how to create an effective online strategy, download our free white paper, The Patient Communication Opportunity here.
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