You’ve got compelling data. Check. Your brand can extend or improve the life of patients. Check. Physicians recognize the need to treat patients and are ready to prescribe. Check. You’ve carefully crafted a persuasive patient message to raise awareness, inform, and educate. Check.
So, why aren’t patients starting and staying with your brand?
The answer is simple. Either most pharma solutions are incorporating inadequate strategies to fix patient problems, or pharma is trying to fix patient problems that don’t exist. Consider these scenarios:
- Patient A: “I’m fine.” She says, “I’m fine,” even though some days she’s so dejected that she struggles to get out of bed. The patient doesn’t share with her doctor because she figures there’s nothing that can be done. The patient knows her medications will help with symptoms, but some days she skips her injections, because she can’t deal with the reminder of being sick.
- Patient B: “I don’t need this medication.” She fills her prescription, but only because her doctor is insistent that it will help lower her blood pressure. But, once home, she never takes the medication. She reasons: “My doctor says my blood pressure is too high, but I feel fine. I don’t need this medication.”
- Patient C: “I’m not ready to start a new treatment.” He knows his cancer is serious, but is hesitant and reluctant to start a new product. The doctor says side effects are unlikely, but he has seen scary things on the message boards and forums and that feels real to him.
These patients don’t need more education, a blank journal to write in, or additional reminder calls. They need support to overcome their affective, cognitive, and motivational barriers. And these support strategies are easier to create than you think.
To be successful, a brand must go beyond
persuasive product messages and work to support the whole patient, not just their clinical needs.
- Address negative emotions. Patients need to manage their emotions (eg, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness) that may come with diagnosis, treatment, and living with their condition.
- Help patients rethink. Patients need more productive ways to deal with their condition, their treatment options, and themselves.
- Support patient decision making. Pharma needs to remember that in the context of health and treatment, it’s not a single patient decision that matters, but instead a series of decisions that are made each day
Instead of being patient centered, try being patient informed.
Brand marketers are all too familiar with the term patient-centered. But, patient-centered approaches may only take you so far. Instead of directing tactics at patients, pharma needs to provide solutions that are informed by the patient. In simple terms, pharma needs to address the patients’ needs. Consider these questions to get started:
- What does the patient think about his or her condition and treatment options?
- Is the patient dealing with any emotions? If so, which ones?
- What behaviors are inhibiting or facilitating adherence?
Rather than directing messages at patients, pharma needs to be willing to start by listening to patients. When we are on the outside, we assume we know what the patient wants or needs. However, we don’t really understand why patients continue to make unhealthy choices, why they resist a medication that might help them, or why they aren’t adherent. We don’t understand their behavior or how to change it. However, if we shift our approach, we can.
Behavioral science: What do experts know and how can it help pharma brand marketing?
Behavioral science has identified relevant solutions in several areas that explain why patients resist or stop taking medication that would improve their health or quality of life.
- The Emotional: Negative emotions challenge our ability to solve problems, make decisions, or act in ways that are consistent with our long-term goals.
- Although we cannot stop the negative emotions that come with significant or chronic illness, we may be able to improve a patient’s ability to cope with them. When Patient A learns strategies for coping with negative emotions, she will be able to move forward and persevere knowing that her medication adherence may improve her health.
- The Cognitive: Patients are often resistant to change. They may develop inaccurate thoughts or unproductive ways of thinking.
- Research has identified strategies that help people “unpack” and establish more productive ways of thinking. When Patient B learns how to understand her condition and health, she becomes more receptive to the treatment approach and what her doctor is saying.
- The Motivational: Patients don’t like to be told what to do. It’s natural to resist being persuaded or pushed toward various decisions.
- When we push patients toward certain opinions, ideas, and information, we often push them away. Behavioral science reveals the communication strategies that may uncover the motivation of patients. These solutions encourage patients to convince themselves of the health-promoting behaviors that are in their best interest. If you change how Patient C’s doctor communicates, it could unlock the patient’s decision-making process and guide the patient to better health outcomes.
To change behavior and keep patients adherent, brands need to go beyond the product message. The message isn’t what matters. What matters is the patient. To determine what’s best for your brand, start with the patient and identify how to overcome the emotional, cognitive, and motivational barriers patients face.
Patient centered is great in theory, but, there’s more that can be done. As we uncover and address whole patient needs, we begin to understand that patient informed is the preferred way to drive brand success and impact outcomes. We owe it to patients to strive for more than putting patients at the center. Instead, we should create solutions that start with the patient, and are informed by the patient.
By Meredith Terry, Lead Behaviorist, Innovation and Practice
MicroMass Communications, Inc.