“Unprecedented times.” Without further explanation, the reference is clear.
2020 isn’t halfway through and already we’re living in a different world than that of 2019. Marketing plans haven’t just been disrupted, they’ve been overturned, just as all of our lives have. What patients and their communities were concerned about a mere five months ago has radically shifted, leaving many brands unsure of how to best support them while navigating the rough waters of a new world.
To help address this, the WEGO Health team held an invitation-only virtual lunch and learn in April for our valued pharmaceutical partners to help uncover tangible tips for companies to improve the patient experience amidst a global pandemic. A selection of submitted questions was answered by a panel of four patient opinion leaders representing a wide range of acute, chronic, and rare conditions.
The panel covered a range of topics from involving patients at every opportunity and speaking in patient-friendly terms, to the desire for patient support programs, patient fears of drug shortages, and lack of information about the pandemic’s effect on their condition. In just 60 minutes, we had only scratched the surface of the patient experience conversation, leaving many lingering questions from our industry partners unanswered.
We knew there would be value in conducting a quantitative follow-up survey to our Patient Leader Network ensuring all questions were addressed. The survey was a massive undertaking, fielding over 300 responses across 100 health conditions. As we dug deeper into the industry questions, we uncovered both practical and tactical advice from Patient Leaders.
More than manufacturing: Patients find the most value in financial support and disease management resources
When asking Patient Leaders what types of information and support resources they find most valuable, nearly 2 in 3 patients (63%) count financial support among the top three. With unemployment rates at their highest since the Great Depression, patients need help paying for medications now more than ever — and they also need to be made aware when programs like this already exist.
Coming in second and third, more than half of patients find high value in medication and disease management. Living within the walls of this industry, we know that many of these resources already exist, but we see pharma struggle to communicate their availability to patients. What is the ROI tied to an adherence or support program? From patients’ perspectives, it is a worthy investment and one that can drive engagement for your brand, as well.
Ignorance is not bliss: Patients are largely unaware that financial support services are available to them
Companies spend countless hours and resources developing financial support programs that more than 6 in 10 patients are “not at all” to only “somewhat” aware exist. Patient Leaders on the cutting edge of their conditions report that only 39% of patients within their condition communities are “aware” to “extremely aware” of these programs. As one of the top three most valuable resources, there’s a huge information gap between treatment manufacturers and patients here. How can you bridge that gap? If your company or brand has a financial support program for patients, ensure you also have a plan to market it. If not, consider the benefits of providing this for your consumers and the rapport it can build between your brand and patient communities.
When it comes to virtual solutions, get connected
The world has slowly but surely been shifting to a more virtual model, and COVID-19 has no doubt accelerated that shift. In light of the pandemic, there are a number of virtual solutions pharma can provide that patients are eager to embrace.
Nearly 3 in 4 patients would like to see pharma companies get involved in telehealth adoption. WEGO Health has seen big pharma companies forging partnerships with telehealth over the past several years, and COVID-19 is simply the accelerator that patients needed to inspire adoption.
Well over half of patients would like to see more detailed information around COVID-19 on pharmaceutical company websites. These are not the obligatory COVID-19 messages that patients are getting from retail brands and restaurants ad infinitum, but rather high-science and educational information surrounding the impact that the disease may have on their conditions and their medications. We know that science takes time, and information like this may not exist or may require in-depth, long-term research to ensure validity. But, even a simple message that it’s being addressed can make all the difference in the world.
It can be done, and in some cases, it has been done — and quite well at that. We’ve seen this type of unbiased, non-brand related content living on corporate websites and being shared on LinkedIn amongst industry colleagues, but there is a missed opportunity to share this information with the patients that can benefit from it the most. Information needs to be shared at scale, not suppressed within the organic newsfeeds of our industry walls.
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The other virtual solution we’ve seen taking shape prior to, and now accelerated by, COVID-19 is consumer educational webinars. Patient Leaders would like to participate in these events, not just for the knowledge it can bring them, but also for the knowledge they can, therefore, share with their communities. We know from patient behavioral intent research that when a healthcare influencer shares information about a condition or therapy, 9 out of 10 patients who follow them will ask an HCP about the information.
Half a glass
While digital spend is increasing in the pharmaceutical industry, how likely are patients to visit treatment websites on their own?
The answer could be either encouraging or discouraging, depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person. We prefer the glass-half-full approach, where just over half (52%) of Patient Leaders say they would be extremely likely or somewhat likely to visit a treatment website.
This provides a great opportunity for pharma to deliver an engaging and informative customer experience on-site and is a strong indicator that consumer digital marketing has never been more important. The opportunity for pharma to capture the other 48% exists in awareness and discovery platforms like social media, influencer marketing, search, and display.
The pharmaceutical report card
Our industry partners wanted to know — real talk — what grade Patient Leaders would give their companies on their efforts to be patient-centric.
Another “glass-half-full” or “glass-half-empty” answer in that 38% gave them a C – a passing grade, and while we are making progress, there’s plenty of opportunity for growth.
Only 7% of patients would give pharma an A grade. It’s a discouraging number that we all can agree we’d like to, and arguably need to, improve. When asked the open-ended question on what pharma could do to earn an A grade, Patient Leaders replied with a few resounding themes:
• Include patients at every opportunity (from research to marketing planning)
• Include ‘real’ patients across the board – patients want to hear from other patients. Authenticity goes a long way.
• Support for families and caregivers
• Communication of support programs
• Speak our language
Partner with patients as the experts they are
Lastly, our industry partners wanted to know how Patient Leaders would most prefer to partner with them. While answers varied, patients gravitated toward the opportunity to join an advisory board, be a part of the brand messaging/campaigns, and share information online via influencer marketing opportunities — all things that are achievable in the here and now.
The pharmaceutical industry has a unique opportunity in 2020 to earn the trust of patients by providing expert information, quality resources and support, and aligning with patients in a true partnership to advance beyond the status quo pre-COVID-19.
We encourage you to access the full report here and to speak to our team to learn more about how WEGO Health connects Patient Leaders with our pharmaceutical partners, providing patient insights, content creation, and digital marketing solutions to activate patients.