Q&A: The role of the caregiver in brand loyalty and compliance

Rebecca Joslin, brand associate director for Novartis Exelon Patch, on how reaching out to caregivers creates brand loyalty and improves adherence

Being sick isnt easy, nor is caring for someone who has fallen ill.

Often, the stress, denial, sadness, confusion, or defiance a patient feels is just as intensely felt by the caregiver.

And while poor adherence statistics have encouraged the pharmaceutical industry to intensify its focus on the patient experience, the caregiver experience still gets overlooked.

Rebecca Joslin, brand associate director for Novartis Exelon Patch, says that reaching out to caregivers and listening to the information and support they need can create brand loyalty and improve compliance, future prescribing, and prescribing habit.

Joslin has 15 years of marketing and sales experience, 11 of those in pharma, and currently leads Novartis customer program in the Alzheimers disease area.

eyeforpharma: What are some of the difficulties caregivers face and where do they need help most?

Rebecca Joslin: This is an extremely important question, as caregivers often find themselves isolated when caring for someone.

Many of their friends shy away from the issues as they don't feel comfortable or know what to say to help.

Most caregivers are very loving people, but when you spend time with them, you realize they often feel they're not doing everything they can to help their loved one.

So they need support to feel like they're doing the right thing and to know there isn't anything more they can do.

Caregiving is more than a full-time job, and it's mentally more than many of us can imagine.

Caregivers are faced with the guilt of wishing this didn't happen to them.

At the same time, they know they have to do everything they can, as the patient also wishes this hadn't happened to them.

A quote from a caregiver of a patient with Alzheimer's: "I have to look after her; this is my duty. I love her, but sometimes I wish I could walk away as I feel so frustrated. I feel guilty feeling this way. I'm her daughter. I feel like such a bad person."

How can pharmaceutical companies reach out to caregivers?

There are many segments of caregivers looking for something different.

Some caregivers are looking for as much information as they can find (the proactive type), while caregivers at the other extreme feel totally helpless.

We need to listen to these caregivers, find which segments are going where for their information, and provide the information they need where and when they need it.

Simply put, we need to listen to caregivers needs and help fill these needs.

We need to stop coming up with lots of stuff and just handing it to them, expecting that we've done what we need to do.

Stop listening to all the agencies that produce these fantastic looking booklets and listen to what the caregivers actually need.

Often, caregivers turn to physicians for all their information, but the physician doesn't have time to provide what the caregiver actually needs.

Let's as an industry provide the help and support that our systems don't allow physicians to provide.

We need to listen.

Can promoting effective communication with caregivers add value to products?

With so many products seeking to provide differentiating clinical claims but really offering very little difference, why can't we offer a differentiating service model?

When the doctor writes a script, he also writes a script for the support the caregiver actually needs.

Creating loyalty is the Holy Grail and improves compliance, future prescribing, and prescribing habit.

Can pharma companies use communication with caregivers to build brand loyalty and adherence?

I think if we listen and provide needed support, loyalty and compliance will follow.

I also believe all key stakeholders (physician, nurse, caregiver, pharmacist, etc.) need to be involved to ensure that compliance is improved.

If we fully understand what triggers caregivers to ensure the patient is compliant (the right emotional triggers), then we are more likely to succeed.

We need to explain compliance in the terms a caregiver will understand.

For instance: You've noticed that your son is tired and irritable. This may be due to him not taking his asthma medication regularly. Why don't you try to encourage him to take his medication regularly and see if you notice a difference.

Finding the right emotions to encourage compliance, delivered by a non-criticizing, reputable nurse, could make all the difference to one parent.

This is only one approach, but we need to listen to the emotional needs of caregivers if we want them to encourage patients to continue to take treatment.

How do patient groups factor into this discussion?

Patient groups are vital in so many ways.

For one, they can help find the caregivers for you to listen to.

Secondly, their main interest is the patient and caregiver, so they can help put things into perspective for you.

We build trust by doing the right thing and having the right intentions.

Consistency and understanding are vital.

I would suggest becoming a truly active sponsor.

Make your sponsorship work for you and ensure you get to listen to the patient and caregiver.

Show you're not just a yearly bank, but you're there to help and be part of the treatment.

Can pharma firms harness the volatility of this momenteconomic pressures, healthcare overhauls, and technological advancesto good effect?

It costs nothing to listen.

We spend so much money on promotion that doesn't work; if we listen, we may be able to ensure our promotional budget is spent in the right way.

Spend a couple of days in a nursing home.

Spend the day with a caregiver at home.

Take a caregiver to lunch and ensure your field force does the same.

An empathetic rep who focuses on the real issues for the patient and caregiver will have more impact on sales than an unemotional dinner meeting that is the same as the one the competition did last month.

For more on patient groups, see How patient advocacy groups can boost patient compliance.

For more on the role of pharmacies in compliance, see How pharmacists can help improve patient compliance and The pharmacist as an ally in patient adherence.