For Breakthrough Health Care Communication, Try a Visual

For breakthrough communication, add a visual

How one picture turned the tide against obesity

For most people who read the New York Times article, “Americans are Finally Eating Less”, there was exciting news about the fight against obesity. But for alert pharmaceutical marketers, the article contained the key to changing patient behavior: an effective visual!

While study after study had described the magnitude of the obesity problem, it wasn’t until a researcher put up a set of bright blue maps did people begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem. These maps graphically depicted the dramatic rise in obesity rates in all 50 states from 1991 to 1998.

Power of visual

The article points to the blue map visual as sparking the turning point in the fight against obesity. In the article, Hank Cardello, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is quoted as saying “People became more aware of it in a very visual and impactful way… That created a lot of attention and concern.”

An underused tool in pharmaceutical communications

In Pharmaceutical marketing, each word directed at the patient is scrutinized endlessly. Visuals or videos are often an afterthought, if they exist at all. While Pharma has embraced the concept of health literacy, its execution has been incomplete, with a narrow focus on grade level.

But visuals are critical to driving health behavior change. For example, in one instance with a low-literacy population at particularly high risk for pneumococcal infection, the group that had viewed a simple visual communication aid was five times more likely to have received the pneumococcal vaccine than those who had not received the visual education tool.

Not just for low literacy populations

But it is not only the low literacy population that gets more out of visualization. Consider Cisco, a world leader in IT, which found that 96% of its customers watch videos for business.  So Cisco started creating videos, over 1,000 new videos a year.

And visualization doesn’t have to be expensive. According to Cisco’s Leslie Drate,“it doesn’t really matter how much we spend on producing the video. The results for what we spend $100,000 on could be similar to what we spend $1,000 on. It just has a lot to do with content and audience.”

                                 Picture Source: Movie CLIP

So to paraphrase the famous phrase from the movie The Graduate, I want to say one word to Pharma marketers responsible for changing patient behavior. Just one word, Visuals!

To meet patient’s need for speed, Pharma needs more lawyers

What kind of crazy talk is that? Everyone knows that it is the legal and regulatory teams and the whole review committee process that keeps Pharma moving at a lugubrious pace. Certainly that’s the biggest excuses I hear for why patient complaints languish in the blogosphere or why websites aren’t updated on a regular basis.

It can’t be the shear size of the pharma organization that slows decision-making. Larger companies have shown they can be nimble when it counts. Take Apple, the largest company in the US and how their rapid fire response to the Taylor Swift incident. It took Apple less than one day over a weekend to reverse a policy about paying royalties during the Apple music trial period. And Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, communicated it simply with a tweet.

Moving faster requires real teamwork, the type of teamwork highlighted in Fortune magazine’s recent profiles of the small teams within big companies like Nike, Starbucks and J&J. And it is shared goals that fuel these integrated teams’ stellar performance.

In my opinion, Pharma’s sluggishness comes down to the antiquated brand team structure. Most teams are comprised of three marketing sub-teams (HCP/Patient/Payer) overseen by a legal/regulatory/medical review committee with an entirely different reporting structure. Operating in siloes, these different departments often have different, and often, conflicting goals. The legal and regulatory departments are charged with protecting the company and the brand marketers are charged with growing the business.

But what if the Pharma brand team was a fully integrated team—with marketing, legal and regulatory all aligned around improving patient outcomes?

More crazy talk! What if reviewing patient comments, whether online, over the phone and deciding how to respond, was a daily job shared by all? What if lawyers attended focus groups? How about the regulatory team member meeting with patients at an advocacy event? What if everyone was co-located? What if marketing/legal/regulatory acted as a unified SWAT team dedicated to listening, responding and creating new ways to improve patient health?

For the SWAT team concept to work legal and regulatory colleagues must function as full members of a brand team, not just as a panel of judges at weekly review committee meetings. That’s where the idea that Pharma needs more lawyers (and regulators) comes in to play. Moving faster means brand teams should include marketing, legal and regulatory expertise to make decisions on a daily, if not hourly basis.

With consumer expectations regarding company response time rising across all industries, speed needs to be the rule in Pharma rather than the exception. And contrary to expectations, moving faster requires ongoing, rather than foregoing legal and regulatory input. Simply put, Pharma needs more lawyers (and regulatory experts) to move at the speed of patients.

Three Prescriptions for Patient Centricity

Patient Focused. Patient Centric. Patient First. There are lots of buzzwords companies use to describe their aspirations for a new focus on patients. But as my 8th grade Latin teacher once told me,

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Whatever phrase your company uses, here are three prescriptions on how to “walk the talk” of patient centricity in 2015 (and avoid a dance with the devil):

1. Fully infuse the voice of the patient into drug development. Historically, patient marketers are among the last to join pre-commercial or even launch teams. To be more patient focused, teams need to be staffed with patient experts early in the game.
And once in the game, these patient marketers should make development of customer service and adherence programs the first order of business. As payers and patients have to increasingly make cost/quality trade-offs, it will be critical that marketers can prove that their patient services actually make a difference in adherence rates, patient experience and clinical outcomes.
In fact, patient services already a factor into 3rd party purchase decisions. For example, according to a Duke physician I heard speak at a conference, Eliquis was chosen over competitors because the brand had the strongest co-pay assistance program.
Or just listen. Patients in clinical trials are already shaping opinions of the drug through their online conversations. An extrovertic social media analysis found an average of 30,000 patient conversations taking a place every month by patients involved a clinical trial.

2. Partner with providers and payers to meaningfully improve the patient experience at the point of care. HCPs, Integrated Delivery Systems and Payers are going to be judged on outcomes and patient experience. Pharmaceutical companies have the know-how and resources to help their customers meet the triple aim of improving patient experience, lowering costs and driving better outcomes. Take a look at all the governmental metrics requirements and pick a few to partner on.
It will also be important to have an expansive definition of point-of-care, both in terms of place where care happens and the people who provide the care. Care is now being highly distributed, it’s happening at home, at the retail pharmacy, at work, at Costco and at urgent care centers. And with the looming primary care physician shortage, care will be increasingly be delivered by nurses, physician assistants and even lay health workers.
And let’s not forget the increasing role patients are playing in their own health with the explosion of wearable technology and the whole quantified-self movement. The point of care is now everywhere and the smart pharmaceutical marketers will be conducting pilots to figure out how they can add to the patient experience.

3. Adopt a cross-channel patient experience framework to conduct marketing activities. A good patient experience is one that is consistent throughout every interaction, whether it be through a website, a phone call or in person meeting. Many of these touchpoints are managed by different functions in a pharmaceutical company, yet to the consumer it all comes from the same company. So the company has got to start acting like one company.
And this one organization needs to be reoriented towards driving patient satisfaction rather than driving sales. Driving satisfaction doesn’t mean revenue generation takes a back seat. A whole body of literature supports that higher customer satisfaction scores result in higher sales and profits, in industry after industry.
But first the voice of the patient needs to be heard. This will require an integrated system of collecting patient feedback in a way it can be acted upon. For example, how well is the medical information call center doing in meeting patient needs? I would guess most marketers don’t know.
So take these 3 Rx’s and make 2015 the year that pharma companies turn patient centric talk into action. (And Mr. Riggs, I really did “disce diligentius.”)

The #Powerof1Million changes everything

Last week, I got an email from 23andMe announcing that they had “genotyped more than one million people worldwide,” and that I was number 85,552. Big news for a company that has weathered a lot of ups and downs, particularly in November 2013 when the FDA demanded that they stop providing health information.

As number 85,552, I had signed up prior to the health information shut down, so I was privy to my health information. Luckily, as it turns out, my health information didn’t contain any earth shattering news. My ancestry results however were a big surprise.

Even with my unexpected genealogy results, my 23andMe results didn’t have a big impact on me personally. However, professionally, as a health care communicator, I believe that the fact one million consumers are willing to be genotyped is a big deal.

As their press release states, “Today, 23andMe has the world’s largest database of re-contactable individuals who have consented to participate in [genetic] research.” Talk about empowered consumers.

And 23andMe is just one of the many emerging services and products aimed at putting more health information into the hands of consumers. Consider the Scanadu Scout, a device that sends blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygen levels to a consumer’s iPhone.

I believe that the colossal amount of health information now available to consumers ups the ante for health care communicators in three ways:

The ability to explain complex health information in simple ways is even more critical than ever before. Having a commitment to health literacy built into a company’s DNA will be the cost of doing business in our data rich world.

Factoring in the consumer’s emotional increases in importance. Understanding the impact health information can have on a person’s emotional state can be the difference between effectively communicating and sending a consumer into a downward spiral of fear and confusion.

Helping consumers turn knowledge into action is vital. Providing concrete next steps to help consumers act upon what they have learned turns reams of data into potentially lifesaving information.

As health care communicators, our ability to help consumers process the avalanche of health care information coming their way can make a real difference in people’s lives. For a robust understanding of what is coming down the pike, read Eric Topol’s latest book, “The Patient Will See You Now.” The book is a veritable canon on the trends in personalized medicine. As 23andMe’s #Powerof1Million announcement makes clear, the future is closer than we think.

My Madeleine Albright Moment

I signed up for 23andMe a few years ago for professional reasons. This was before November 2013 when the FDA told 23andMe to stop providing health results. As a health care marketer, I admired how the company’s whimsical pink and green infographics made genetics both appealing and understandable.

When I mentioned to friends that I had signed up, many said that they wouldn’t want to know if there was some disease lurking in their genetic code. I’ll admit that a chill went through my body as I thought, “What if I find out something really bad?” Luckily, my repressed WASP upbringing allowed me to shelve any looming unpleasantries in the back of my mind.

When the 23andMe test results came, nothing really bad popped up. My results weren’t that earth shattering and made sense based on my family history. I was higher risk for Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) and Atrial Fibrillation.

At the time, I largely ignored the ancestral results. They were pretty lame, telling me what years of sunburnt skin told me: I was 99.9% Caucasian. As for country of origin, I knew that I was a U.K. mutt with a small German streak.

Several years went by, and 23andMe continued to email me with updates. One day in April, I happened to click on one all the way through to the ancestry data.

And that was when I had my Madeleine Albright moment: 19% ASHKENAZI.

When my mother was later tested, it revealed that she was 49% Ashkenazi, totally unbeknownst to her. We hypothesize that my maternal grandfather, Irving Crook, was probably Jewish. He came to America from England when he was 6 months old. But that didn’t mean he was of English descent. England was most likely just a stopover for his Eastern European parents escaping persecution. We will probably never really know, and most likely Irving didn’t know either.

How does this change my life? Not much. I still sing in the church choir and help organize our annual Fish & Chips dinner. However, the bigger question is what impact did my health results have on my behavior? The biggest change is that I now get up during long plane rides to help prevent blood clots, something everybody should do anyway.

I recognize that for many people, the 23andMe health results can have major consequences. Had I gotten more devastating news, it could have sent me down a rabbit hole of unnecessary, expensive and potentially dangerous medical testing. As Atul Gawande says in his recent Yorker article, “Overkill”, “Millions of Americans get tests, drugs, and operations that won’t make them better, may cause harm, and cost billions.” I also realize that not everybody is equipped to deal with bad news like Angela Jolie, who upon learning she had the BRCA gene, chose prophylactic surgery.

But despite these caveats, I think the author of “The Patient Will See You Now”, Eric Topol is right, the personal data genie is out of the bottle. In the opening pages of his book, he makes the following bold statement:

“We are embarking on a time when each individual will have all their own medical data and the computing power to process it in the context of their own world. There will be comprehensive medical information about a person that is eminently accessible, analyzable and transferable. This will set up a tectonic power shift, putting the individual at center stage.”

It is true that our health care system with its practice of defensive medicine and misaligned economic incentives has the power to distort good data into bad unintended consequences. This fear drives the cry for a more measured approach to personal health data transparency. We end up like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to hold back the flood of health care information.

However, the time and effort is better spent helping this free flow of personal data transform our flawed health care system into a more patient oriented system. That’s why education and good health care information are even more critical going forward. Don’t withhold information, teach people how to deal with it.