Patients' Week 2011: How pharma can meet the needs of younger patients

Di Stafford argues that pharma must make products for kids interesting, engaging and fun

Di Stafford argues that pharma must make products for kids interesting, engaging and fun

As the school summer holidays loom, I’ve been busy scheduling routine health appointments for my kids, so that I can get them out of the way at the beginning of the long summer break.

Naturally, this led me to start thinking about how the healthcare industry in general tailors its products toward the needs of the smallest patients—children.

Obviously, the development, testing and licensing of medicines for children is a huge discussion topic in its own right, but I’m more interested in thinking about all the ancillary elements of a child’s healthcare experience—product design, service, information and education.

It’s something the consumer and oral healthcare markets have done very effectively in the last decade.

I’m sure there are still some Ben10® plasters and Mr Bump® antiseptic wipes lurking at the back of our medicine cabinet.

Obviously, it’s a bit trickier in pharma, and we have to be careful to stay within local regulatory guidelines.

We mustn’t trivialize the efficacy of a product, nor make it too aspirational, but at the same time, we need to find a way to engage with the target market on their terms.

This is also a minefield, since ‘children’ are hardly a homogenous group.

Further sub-division into groups such as under 10s, pre-teens and teenagers might be useful.

What’s ‘awesome’ to an eight-year-old is probably decidedly naff to his 12-year-old brother!

Peer group pressure is a big factor in most children’s lives.

They are often worried about being teased by their classmates if they need to self-medicate at school with devices like asthma inhalers or insulin pens.

Although inhaler covers have been available for some time now, the recently launched PuffaPouch® in the UK is a great example of a product that has tapped into the mindset of its target audience.

Note the language—“inhaler streetwear”—and the active lifestyle cues (neoprene fabric, camouflage prints, lanyard, and key ring options).

“Of the half a million asthma attacks that resulted in patients being hospitalized last year, 75 percent could have been avoided if an inhaler had been to hand,” says Lawrence Boon, managing director of Pasante, the company behind PuffaPouch.

“We know that children in particular are too embarrassed to carry inhalers with them, but the PuffaPouch takes away the stigma, and makes it a fashion accessory.”

Product design, information and education

Ease of use to enable correct, independent dosing is also vitally important for products used by children.

Last year, Novo Nordisk was awarded a GOOD DESIGN™ Award for the NovoPen Echo®, their innovative insulin pen, designed specifically with the needs of children in mind.

It has a small dosing capability (for children with low insulin requirements) and also a simple memory function that records the dose and time since last injection.

The pen has also been made to fit children's smaller hands. A wide range of colors and designs are available (reminiscent of popular ink pens in trendy stationery shops).

So there’s evidence that at least some companies are getting it right for their younger patients.

But what about the ‘patient experience’ beyond the actual product itself?

As with adults, it’s helpful if children understand their condition and treatments.

Too often, though, the information materials are overly complex, aimed at adult audiences, or just plain dull!

It was this observation that led Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair and Dr. Kate Hersov to set up MediKidz.

The company uses superhero characters in a comic-book format to help young people understand illness and medical concepts.

Over 25 key conditions are now covered in comic book titles, and Medikidz have also produced a number of booklets and leaflets to help adults explain conditions such as breast cancer to their children.

Video games are also becoming an increasingly popular means for conveying health messages to young people. (For some great examples, see Patients Just Wanna Have Fun and Making Games Work for Pharma.)

At the end of the day, health and medicines are pretty boring, and living with a health condition is already hard for a child.

So let’s make their lives as easy as possible by thinking carefully about all elements of the pharmaceutical products used by children, making them as relevant, interesting and engaging as possible.

Di Stafford is director of The Patient Practice, a health-marketing consultancy. She specializes in health communication, patient compliance and health-related behaviour change. She has two children, both of whom have already been patients at various points in their lives.

For more information on Patients’ Week and to sign up for a free webinar on Monday 19th September, go to Patients' Week 2011.

For everything patient-related, join the sector’s other key players at Patient Adherence, Communication and Engagement (PACE) USA on October 24-25 in Philadelphia. Download the full PACE agenda and speaker line-up here.  Want to know more? Contact

To read our Patients’ Week stories from 2010, see Patients’ Week 2010.

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