Patient-centric marketing: three blindspots and how to overcome them

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By 2040, consumers, not health plans or providers, will decide when, where and with whom they engage for care and wellbeing services, Deloitte predicts. This is in no small part due to the fact that by then all health information will likely be accessible and shared by patients themselves.

VCs can’t seem to back solutions in this arena fast enough. In the first half of 2020, as per McKinsey, a record $5.4 billion in venture funds was poured into digital healthcare companies, with on-demand healthcare services and monitoring of disease as the top-funded value propositions. Healthcare systems are all for going patient-centric, too. In 2019, the UK’s National Health Services announced their Long Term Plan, including a comprehensive model for personalised care, in a bid to offer people more autonomy over their health, along with care tailored around their exact needs.

Incumbent life sciences and healthcare players, or at least most of them, have a long way to go in building rapport and earning the trust of empowered customers. If they want to compete in this new paradigm, that is, delivering better health outcomes, patient experiences and support for healthy behaviours.

So why is it so hard for businesses in the world’s single most human-centred industry to be… well, just that? And how can healthcare marketers help them get there? Here are three possible answers – and remedies.

 

1. “That’s not how we do it here!”, aka everyone’s favourite excuse

Let’s put the most obvious issue on the table first: the healthcare industry loves the sound of its own voice. Always has. “For generations, society has placed doctors in a position of authority; conversation between physician and patient has been paternalistic and one-directional,” explains Tenth Crow Creative president Mark Crow. And because doctors are key decision makers in healthcare organisations, this communication model has bled into their marketing strategies over time.

In the age of the customer, however, that will no longer cut it. “What needs to happen is for doctors to come down off their pedestal and for patients to get up off their knees,” pointed out Robert Johnstone during the First European Conference on Patient Empowerment as early as 2012. It’s time this changing dynamic between patients and HCPs, which can be best described as collaborative care, was reflected in marketing communications, too.

In this new world order, industry marketing professionals must step up as translators between healthcare providers and the communities they serve, Crow says, listening to and understanding healthcare audiences as well as creating messages that resonate with them.

 

2. Ecosystem thinking: just what the patient ordered?

In a Deloitte study, a biopharma giant talks about a research project that involved the collection of passive movement data through wearables. When patients were moving around, the researchers assumed they were experiencing fewer symptoms. Until one of them, a writer, said that whenever she felt better, she was able to sit down and do some writing. Meaning that inactivity didn’t equal poorer health outcomes, refuting the research team’s theory.

This underlines a crucial truth for healthcare marketers (and businesses as a whole): involving patients in making and marketing health products and services is not what makes an organisation patient-centric. Actively trying to understand and address the needs of patients as people, not research subjects, sufferers of a condition or data points across touchpoints is.

Are patient journeys as well as people’s emotions, behaviours and struggles throughout them mapped out? What about unmet social needs that might worsen or cause their symptoms? Or health literacy barriers they might face? If yes, are these insights shared across teams and translated into day-to-day actions and priorities? These are only some of the questions businesses looking to evolve their patient-centricity focus need to ask themselves.

But that’s not all. Patient-centricity might start with patients but certainly doesn’t end with them. Or even the members of your organisation, for that matter. Ideally, it should be an industry-wide effort that requires close cooperation between life sciences companies and their competitors, healthcare regulators and providers, physicians and clinicians, patient advocacy groups and community health workers.

The same Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study brings a biotech company as an example, which has teamed up with a patient advocacy group to co-host physician-led Q&A sessions for people with a rare condition and learn about their concerns. “While we are focused on white blood cell count, patients were saying they want to stop itching at night so they can sleep better,” explained the company representative.

 

3. You can't manage what you can't measure, except maybe

“For two years, I’ve been looking at the question of ‘What is the digital equivalent of a smile?’” said Sanofi’s Maria Guido during a recent Reuters pharma webinar.

She and her fellow panellists were trying to answer a digital-age-old question: What to measure in a world where you can pretty much measure everything? When it comes to patient value, this dilemma is getting more complex by the day. You have your short-term and long-term metrics, the vanity and ROI-based varieties, the soft and the hard ones, then the ones that measure engagement and those that focus on efficacy and impact.

So what’s the consensus, you ask? There is none. But here are a few pointers.

DCB Health’s director of customer solutions Ross Quinn, for one, swears by soft metrics. “We need to know how our communications make our targets feel; if the tools or tactics we are putting out to make something easier are working; whether we are meeting their needs; and how we can keep improving. This information tells us how we are doing: not just whether they clicked on it, but if not, why not.”

As for organisation-wide patient-centricity KPIs, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company might just have cracked the code.

Patient engagement activity is a must-have KPI for all global programme teams, Takeda’s Jessica Scott told Deloitte. These range from initiatives to bring individual employees closer to patient POVs to developing roadmaps for engaging patient communities. “[This] model of creating a push and pull by tying patient engagement requirements to KPIs is resonating across the organisation. We are connecting patient activities to every global team while giving the teams flexibility with the activities they come up with – without being prescriptive.”

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