Tunnah’s musings: Patient engagement 101
This month, Paul Tunnah reviews a new book outlining the basics of patient engagement, which cuts to the core of how it is an essential component of delivering positive outcomes and value to the healthcare market.
If you're a regular reader of my musings column then you will know how strongly I believe in the value of patient engagement within pharma, for the industry itself, the healthcare systems it serves and, of course, the patients. So it was nice to receive a copy of a new book that seemed to echo my passion, entitled 'Socialize Your Patient Engagement Strategy' and written by Letizia Affinito and John Mack (better known as @pharmaguy on Twitter).
While the subtitle of the book ('How Social Media and Mobile Apps Can Boost Health Outcomes') does not do it justice, because patient engagement can be much broader than that, the content does not disappoint and certainly reflects many of my own views on why patients are an essential part of the health conversation.
"It cannot be simple, didactic push communication, but an ongoing two-way conversation"
The book is divided into three broad sections covering the basics of patient engagement, how to understand the market and the essential components of a good patient-centric strategy.
The introduction lays out the rationale for why patient engagement is critical and the overarching factors underlying its successful implementation – namely that it cannot be simple, didactic push communication, but an ongoing, two-way conversation. Done in the right way, the benefits are myriad, such as better health literacy and patient self-management, including treatment adherence, all of which deliver greater value, from medicines to healthcare systems.
This landscape is expanded upon in the first section, where the authors dive in to the rise of empowered patients, also known as Patient Opinion Leaders (POLs), and how they are driving more collaborative healthcare – the decision-making process behind treatment pathways is now one being actively shaped by patients as well as prescribers and payers. Within this conversation, pharmaceutical companies and other commercial providers must learn to stop talking just about their product attributes and start listening to how such interventions are being received in the real world, which informs how to improve them to deliver more value.
An essential nod is given to the regulatory framework that such companies must adhere to, but this should not be an excuse for not engaging and regulations are not the sole guide here; common sense and good behaviour must also prevail. But the book also provides examples of how the pharma industry and healthcare providers, such as the Cleveland Clinic, are already engaging. Those companies that do not get on board will find themselves left behind in the battle to deliver value to the market.
"Ultimately, good patient engagement is about discussing issues that are relevant to them"
Moving into the second section, the authors expand on the principle of listening to understand how to engage, covering concepts such as active versus passive listening and the many channels – closed and open – available. They weave in how these fundamental principles behind patient engagement are themselves not new, but are reminiscent of how the industry has always tried to engage with physicians and KOLs. Segmentation and personalisation of messaging are just as important for engagement with patients and POLs as any other form of 'customer' communication.
Finally, when it comes to actually implementing a patient-centred strategy, the book covers several areas that I have also written about recently. So, while there is coverage of specific channels and activities, such as mobile apps and tweet chats, these are less important to patients when compared with what you are actually saying. Ultimately, good patient engagement is about discussing issues that are relevant to them, drawing upon storytelling principles and facilitating further conversation outside of your own control – essentially letting go of the reins to enable peer-to-peer communication (both patient-to-patient and patient-to-physician) as the balance of power shifts.
"To call this book a 'patient engagement 101' would do the experience of the authors and its content a disservice"
In doing so, the key principle of co-creation is brought to life – building and shaping engagement collaboratively with patients to align around common areas of interest, e.g. disease education, better diagnosis, how to improve quality of life and so forth. With a final nod to the importance of measurement in assessing how your patient engagement activities are actually performing, all the key aspects of successful implementation are well outlined.
To call this book a beginner's guide to patient engagement or, as our US friends would say – 'patient engagement 101' – would do the experience of the authors and its content a disservice, because it has much greater depth. But it does nicely cover the basics of patient engagement, dispels some of the common myths and provides a simple framework for companies to follow.
I would recommend reading it (unless, of course, you still want an excuse not to engage with patients) and, until next month, as always, stay well.
About the author:
Paul Tunnah is CEO & Founder of pharmaphorum media, which drives better communication and collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and other healthcare stakeholders. Today, the group encompasses both the digital thought leadership publication, www.pharmaphorum.com, and pharmaphorum connect, the trusted healthcare media consultancy, which helps clients tell a clear, engaging story that connects with the right audiences and influencers using pharmaphorum's global healthcare networks.
Dr Tunnah holds a BA in Biochemistry and DPhil in Biological Sciences from Oxford University.
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