A spotlight on patient-provider dialogue

Patient-provider communication impacts both short- and long-term outcomes. Research demonstrates that poor communication leads to distress, uncertainty, internal conflict about decisions, dissatisfaction and treatment non-adherence. These are all outcomes that brands should care about.

The default pharma marketing approach to overcoming dialogue challenges is to educate patients with product messaging in the form of patient brochures and doctor discussion guides. This approach assumes that knowledge is power, but does this activate your patients and accelerate your brand?

The short answer is no. Here’s why.

Communication is complex. Education and brand messaging are important, but they don’t address patient and provider beliefs, motivations and skills. These are barriers that education and product messaging on their own can’t solve.

In contrast, behavioural science goes beyond information-based approaches and provides a roadmap to change behaviour and improve communication. Evidence-based techniques from behavioural science and health psychology can be applied to marketing tactics to overcome communication barriers.

This approach accelerates success for pharma because it does more than just educate – it builds patient and provider motivation and skills that lead to lasting behaviour change.

How can patient-provider communication be improved?

Many people think that dialogue is difficult to change. They reason that a patient that struggles to communicate with their provider is related to a personality trait or age. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Communication is something that can be changed. In fact, evidence shows that effective communication is a skill that can be taught and learned.

So, where should pharma start? It’s obvious isn’t it? With the patients – specifically the patient barriers. How do they feel about their condition? What’s stopping them from starting on your therapy? How do they view their conversations with their provider? Then, assess their beliefs, motivations, and skills through evidence-based techniques and bridge the gap to a more effective patient-provider dialogue.

Beliefs: Patients may not always tell the truth, because being honest might reveal that their disease is getting worse or that their current treatment is failing.

Technique to consider: Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (CBT) can help patients reframe unhelpful or negative beliefs about their condition or treatment. These beliefs often stand in the way of patients having an open conversation with their provider.

Motivations: Many patients are overwhelmed and scared. As a coping mechanism some normalise their symptoms or deny there’s a problem instead of talking to their provider about important issues.

Technique to consider: Shared decision making, and goal setting encourage patients to articulate their wants and needs. Patients share what their goals are for treatment and how far they are willing to go with their treatment to reach those goals.

Skills: Patients can be educated about their disease but may lack the skills to engage in an effective discussion with their provider.

How can patient beliefs, motivations, and skills be addressed in your marketing plan?

One-off tactics are not enough to make a difference. To support patients in having an optimal dialogue, integrate evidence-based behavioural strategies throughout your patient marketing efforts. This overarching approach of addressing beliefs, motivations and skills throughout the patient experience will activate patients and accelerate your brand.

Brand website: Consider including a problem-solving exercise or observational learning video to help patients understand the ‘how’ and overcome potential barriers to an effective conversation with their provider.

Call centre: Utilise nurses or nurse specialists to role-play with patients prior to their next visit with their provider. Through this interaction, nurses can address common communication barriers and build patient confidence in their ability to overcome them.

In-office tools: Develop tools that encourage a two-way dialogue between the patient and provider and facilitate a positive discussion about treatment. An interactive, goal setting tool could help patients and providers identify quality-of-life areas that can be improved and guide a conversation about treatment optimisation. This approach facilitates a shared decision between two experts – the provider and the patient. The provider is the clinical expert and the patient is the expert on their life and what they are willing to do. The result is that initiation or change in treatment is more acceptable to the patient because it aligns to the patient’s priorities, needs and goals.

Instead of interrupting the current discussion with education and product messaging, pharma should influence the process of care by supporting patients and providers throughout the conversation. View the patient and provider as a single, decision-making team, and develop solutions designed for a two-way exchange of information.

Improved patient-provider dialogue through evidence-based behavioural strategies can help you accomplish brand objectives, increase patient satisfaction, deliver greater value to customers, and facilitate better patient outcomes.

Dialogue is a critical part of your brand’s success. Start giving it the attention it deserves.

• Read more from our Spotlight on behavioural science in pharma

About the author

Andi Weiss is lead behaviourist, partnerships and advocacy at MicroMass

Andi Weiss

Andi Weiss is lead behaviourist, partnerships and advocacy at MicroMass, where she specialises in developing practical ways to motivate people to make healthy, sustainable lifestyle changes that lead to better patient outcomes. Her behavioural science background, and expertise in behavioural change strategies that include motivational interviewing and health coaching, help her relate to patients and uncover and overcome challenges commonly faced in healthcare.