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Walking in the Patient's Shoes
Takeda's trailblazing, immersive employee initiative aims at educating employees about what it's really like to be an IBD patient.
Takeda, a Japanese company started in 1781, now with a global reach, is showing other pharmaceutical companies the path towards increased patient focus with their ground-breaking immersive employee initiative, #InTheirShoes. Audrey Liechti, Communications Manager for Takeda Zurich and Natacha Raphael, Head of Corporate Communications at Takeda Canada, spoke to eyeforpharma about the program.
Immersion into living with IBD
The initiative, which was invented in Zürich and is now being rolled out across Takeda, was designed so that “employees remind themselves that patients come first,” says Raphael. Liechti explains further, “Our company is currently transforming towards being a specialty care provider. We are steering towards a focus on Gastroenterology and Oncology, among others, which requires different sets of skills and capabilities.” Therefore, the decision was made to start with an immersive employee initiative to help increase empathy regarding problems experienced by patients with Ifflamatory Bowel Disease (IBD). As Raphael points out, “Takeda is a leader in IBD and employees understand the science behind the treatment and the disease; this program allows the team to better understand the realities of the patient.”
Deeper understanding of patient realities
Before taking part in the 36-hour voluntary immersive experience, employees listen to a patient who bravely tells their story of what it’s like to live with constant diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, and dietary restrictions – this important scene-setting helps participants prepare for what is to come. The next 36 hours entails activities and tasks that need to be completed during work and leisure time – tasks which a person living with IBD would need to do, especially during a flare-up. Some tasks are time-critical, during which time employees are sent text messages like, “Find a bathroom now,” causing them to excuse themselves from meetings and social occasions. Guided by an App, participants receive a response to these tasks, such as “Too late,” meaning that, had the employee actually been an IBD patient, they would have soiled themselves. For this eventuality, volunteers are asked to pack a change of clothes before leaving home.
“We tried to make the experience real and asked participants to wear a belt that was a little tight with patches on their stomachs that generated heat – simulating the discomfort of IBD", highlights Raphael. Sometimes they would get a text message telling them they had cramping and would have to act out the pain, despite being in meetings or in the middle of a projects. They were also asked to avoid certain foods that might worsen IBD symptoms.
Who benefits from the experience?
“We don’t limit the experience to a certain function or site, as we want to bring this to as many employees as possible and want this to be an experience for all levels and functions.” It is hoped that all functions, especially those without medical or scientific backgrounds, will be inspired through participation.
One volunteer commented, “I had victory or failure moments. Victory would be in the work environment when I was in a vital meeting and there would be no prompt to find a bathroom.” When the same volunteer needed to take his daughter to soccer practice he was hoping to watch her game but was prompted to go to the washroom. He made it back just in time to see his daughter score – a victory moment for daughter and for dad in having triumphed over the “disease”! Another volunteer shared a situation where he had to explain to his daughter why his diet had suddenly changed. Raphael recalls a comment from a colleague who said she thought she knew all there was to know about IBD until participation in the immersive experience made her realize just how difficult it really is to live with IBD. But it is this kind of realization that program designers had in mind.
Collaborative design process
In order to ensure that the immersive experience is as authentic as possible, patients were also involved in the design process. Following an educational ‘meet the patient’ event at Takeda headquarters, the initial concept was shared with the Swiss patient association and patients were asked to give feedback. “We were initially cautious as we know this is a borderline topic – we never meant to assume non-patients could ever truly understand what patients go through, but we wanted to get as close as possible,” Liechti explains.
“Their response blew us away as it was truly positive,” says Liechti. “They helped by supplying further examples of daily situations we could not have thought of without their input. Support also came from a company employee who has been living with Crohn’s Disease for the past 14 years. She has been instrumental in bringing in elements like a ’night shift’ for participants and creating an experience that comes as close to reality as possible.” The night–shift option involves being interrupted during the night and even during sleep.
Medical support and The Method - an agency with the theatrical experience and creative expertise to transform the initiative into an emotional and powerful journey - were also enlisted. Liechti says, “We have developed an application to deliver the technical bit of this experience and are now building on it with Grapple Gun Games, to bring to life an additional, integral component: an avatar that mirrors what the participants go through. I don’t think we’ll ever stop the design process as it’s important for us to always push further to create a truly impactful experience.”
After launching in Zurich, Takeda implemented the program in Canada and is currently rolling it out in Europe. They have plans to up the ante even further by making the experience available to non-employees, to raise awareness for IBD externally with this program. They are also driving forward with global disease education via IBD Unmasked, a creative collaboration with Marvel Comic that aims to raise awareness and challenge taboos surrounding the disease. In this way, the notion of walking in the shoes of patients is becoming completely embedded within the company and their strategy.
Asked whether similar immersive approaches could take off across pharma, Raphael says, “Companies talk about putting the patient first, so I’m hoping they engage in a similar exercise that truly puts themselves in the patient’s shoes.” Liechti adds, “I haven’t seen anything quite as immersive as this, but gamification and experiences are definitely a trend in pharma/healthcare.” Examples of immersive patient experience apps are: Forget-me-Knot, a gaming project to raise Alzheimer's Awareness; Zoo Rush for Sickle Cell Disease awareness; and Plague Inc, a strategy game that simulates an epidemic model.
Liechti is excited about sharing the program with external audiences, exclaiming, “We see a real opportunity to raise awareness for the disease – and with a deeper understanding of what patients live through we believe this is a creative pathway to providing solutions beyond-medicines.” Indeed, the #InTheirShoes initiative has provided pharma companies with a signpost program. From Takeda’s success, other initiatives can be developed in order to walk the talk of patient focus, allowing employees to understand the patient’s journey in living with various diseases. The Sioux proverb comes to mind: Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.
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