The Future of Patient Engagement
Ben Steele talks with Clement Chan, Director of Digital Marketing at Janssen in Canada about patient empowerment, the dos and don’ts of online platforms, and what he sees as the future of pharma’s digital interaction with patients and physicians.
Since the rise of social media and Web 2.0, pharma has been making tentative steps to reach out to patient communities online. So far, progress has been hampered by the lack of FDA regulations for the reporting of adverse events mentioned on social media pages, and for dealing with patient requests for off-label information. In this article Clement discusses the potential benefits of patient engagement via social media, and also gives tips on how to steer clear of pitfalls that may be encountered along the way.
As Clement explains, “one of our key concerns at Janssen is to enhance patient healthcare. Patient engagement and patient education are some of the key ways we can improve the lives of patients. One of the best ways to gain that engagement and facilitate patient education, and to drive results, is through social media. One example of this is our program to reach out to the caregivers of patients with schizophrenia. Caregivers play a big role in the lives of schizophrenic patients, so we have created a platform to give them a voice, where they can talk to other caregivers and share best practices. Setting up an online platform for discussion can show these people that they are not alone."
"We have also made an attempt to help those who are living with ulcerative colitis (UC). This disease can be an embarrassing one, and it can really help patients to see what others have gone through and share experiences. A lot of patients are unaware of the treatments available to them, and may suffer in silence rather than seek treatment. We have created a UC Facebook page to improve their situation, and we have so far seen a fantastic engagement rate from patients and their family members.”
One issue often discussed in connection with pharma social media sites is the uncertainty around reporting adverse events. Clement does not see this as a problem, “from our experience, the reality is that patients are not on social media to talk about particular brands, but are instead keen on sharing their experiences living with their condition, and what lifestyle changes that involves. This is why we have continued with our strategy of patient engagement.”
For Clement, having a clear set of rules on what can and can’t be said is necessary to ensure social media success; “we let patients know what the rules are, that they cannot mention a drug by name, or create adverse event comments, and they have abided by the rules. So far these rules have worked very well. Creating an internal ‘task-force’ stretching across the communication, legal, regulatory, marketing, and medical departments are also very important, and there needs to be constant monitoring of the page so that any issues that do arise can be dealt with quickly.”
The effort needed in order to maintain a presence online may seem off-putting, but Clement sees social media listening as a vital tool in a company’s development process. “For every strategic position we take, our tactics will include social media listening as a way to gain insight. When it comes to business planning, the insight that comes from online patient conversations is indispensable. Each of our brands had social media listening abilities, in order to tap in to what is important to the patients and then extrapolate our business positions.”
“My personal vision is that patients will be able to use their mobile devices to gain access to physicians through cloud-based systems.”
When asked about the future of patient engagement, Clement predicts that mHealth will continue to develop, as mobile devices become forums for almost all of a patient’s health needs. “The mobile device can become a platform where physicians and patients can come together. The digital clinic will allow remote diagnosis, e-prescribing and the monitoring of patients’ conditions digitally. This will make the mobile device a very powerful tool for the patient, the payor, and the physician, as well as for pharma if they can provide value in this space. However, all these digital interactions will produce a vast amount of data. In order to benefit from an increase in the level and scope of health services offered on mobile devices, pharma must get used to the integration and amalgamation of ‘big data’ in order to gain insights.”
Clement acknowledges that there are still unanswered questions around the patient privacy and the safety of holding large amounts of patient data on the cloud; “my personal vision is that patients will be able to use their mobile devices to gain access to physicians through cloud-based systems. Patients may also be able to access their data through the cloud. Yet there are still issues about where this data would reside, and who else would have access to it.”
He concludes by saying that whatever platform it is on, patient engagement and physician engagement need to be at the forefront of every pharma firm’s strategy. “It is all about understanding the patient through time; how the patient’s situation has improved or worsened, what our points of contact with the patient are, and how we can best gain feedback from that patient. Patients are so savvy these days that simply pushing a message or a brand cannot be the only part of a company’s strategy. Patients and their caregivers are actively seeking out information on their condition, and pharma companies need to recognise this and provide them with a place to discuss their experiences. Listening to patients and delivering the best patient experience is the only way for a company to achieve its goals in the long run.”
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