Many pharmaceutical companies invest heavily in their patient loyalty strategy. However, within the industry, the holistic aspects of patient care are often overlooked.
Although the term “patient” appears more frequently in projects, it is still often used as a collective term, with the assumption that every patient experiences and treats the symptoms of a disease in the same way.
Importance of patients as individuals
Thinking about patients holistically means seeing each patient as an individual. a person with their own medical history, desires, values, family situation, social circumstances and lifestyle, all of which feed into their experience of a health condition or illness.
In a clinical setting it is easy to assume that treating or curing the physical symptoms of a disease is a priority for a patient. For some people, the effect of treating a condition, personally and emotionally, can be a bigger problem than the effect of the condition on their physical health.
Holistic needs and health care
Many health professionals are now recognizing this thought. There is a recognition in healthcare that clinical expertise is best when combined with an understanding of what it is like for people to live with a disease.
In some disease areas, holistic needs are seen as an important part of treatment plans. In addition to clinical appointments, patients are offered a holistic needs assessment followed by referral to the appropriate services, including emotional and financial support. This offer is based on a better understanding of how a disease and its treatment can affect many other areas of the patient’s life.
When looking at patients holistically, it is important not to forget about caregivers. This means thinking about the impact a caregiver can have on a patient’s experience and understanding how taking on the role of caregiver can affect that person as well.
The patient’s ability to cope with an illness, as well as holistic needs, can be greatly influenced by the presence of a caregiver. However, caregivers may face many challenges when they are an effective partner in disease management. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies should involve caregivers in their patient engagement initiatives whenever possible.
Holistic needs and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the importance of addressing the holistic needs of patients and caregivers. It has been shown that there are many factors that affect the health and well-being of patients and caregivers. Isolation and reduced support from outside carers, family members and friends, financial concerns, and increased emotional distress are just some of the many factors that have affected people’s ability to manage their health over the past six months.
For the best health outcomes, patients must feel empowered to manage their health and overall quality of life. This is becoming more and more important
A time when patients have limited access to health facilities and personal contact points with health professionals.
Effective patient information and support resources that are accessible and resonate with the patient community will play an essential role in helping patients remain active partners in their health management.
Patient advocacy groups (PAGs) and charities have always been good at recognizing and taking into account the experiences of patients and caregivers in managing their health. This is due to their long tradition of involving patients and carers in the creation of content and services. Co-creation has resulted in their support resources seeking to reflect and address the experiences of a range of real people affected by a disease.
A recent survey of patient groups in the UK found that the majority of organizations have seen an increase in demand for services since the lockdown began. This has resulted in PAGs acting quickly to adapt the services to the changing needs of their target audiences.
Many PAGs quickly understood that the pandemic will be felt by patients for many months (and possibly years) in the future, and have recognized the importance of understanding what people with persistent health conditions need in order for them to respond appropriately can.
PAGs and health organizations are not the only main drivers of holistic health. Individual patients are more motivated than ever to address the spectrum of their needs. Changes in health care mean that patients have greater expectation that their holistic needs are included in their care and have more opportunities to ensure this.
There have been many health campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the importance of emotional and mental health. These campaigns have helped the public develop an understanding of how lifestyle factors and emotional health can affect overall wellbeing and the ability to deal with other health conditions. This has led people to become more confident and open to discussing their broader needs.
This growing awareness means that it has never been more important for pharmaceutical companies to be patient-centric, not product-centric, and to clearly demonstrate this to patients. The currently changing healthcare landscape should be seen as an opportunity to involve patients in developing communication plans and assisting with resource design (or redesign) to ensure we create a sustainable system that is fit for the future.
How can pharmaceutical companies do this?
To incorporate the patient perspective into a communication plan, patients and caregivers must work together to truly understand their experience – from pre-diagnosis to ongoing management. There are many effective ways to uncover this insight (including patient councils, patient surveys, and focus groups), but building relationships with PAGs is often a good place to start.
We have already recognized that PAGs have a thorough understanding of the experiences of their patient members and exist to enhance those experiences. Their close relationship with the patient community can help pharmaceutical companies access and engage with a large and diverse platform of patients to gain insights that reflect the experiences of the wider patient community.
How does this benefit the pharmaceutical industry?
Addressing patient expectations will help pharmaceutical companies develop more holistic, more effective therapies, develop targeted tactical interventions to meet the needs of their target groups, and evaluate current patient information and support services. Additionally, there are real benefits to drug companies investing in a better understanding of all aspects of the patient and care experience.
The public is sometimes suspicious of pharmaceutical companies as the industry has a reputation for being solely focused on companies and products. Take the time to understand the patient experience and use those insights to produce meaningful patient engagement results
a great way to show commitment to patients and their wellbeing. This could help build trust in the industry and improve relationships between drug companies, patients, and PAGs.
Working closely with patients will give you more insight into their behavioral patterns, such as: For example, how lifestyle affects treatment adherence, which side effects are most problematic for patients, and how patients and caregivers themselves would like pharmaceuticals to help them address these challenges.
Health technology assessment agencies and payers are increasingly prioritizing effectiveness outcomes that include a broader understanding of the patient experience. Holistic care programs that help patients better manage their lives with their illness will improve access and reimbursement.
What does this mean for pharmaceutical companies?
In conclusion, to make holistic needs a priority, pharmaceutical companies must start investing in understanding all aspects of the patient and care experience and allocate time to it at every stage of the patient journey. The most effective way to do this is to work with patients, caregivers, and PAGs to gain insight into the experiences of patients and caregivers.
Uncovering the problems and concerns patients and caregivers may have about managing an illness and how this fits into everyday life will help organizations develop effective engagement and management tools based on the specific needs of the target audience .
Organizations need to make sure they have staff who are experienced in patient engagement and content creation. At Nucleus Global, we have a dedicated patient engagement team with expertise in needs assessment, engagement strategies, and patient content development. Part of our quality assurance process includes working with patients and PAGs to gather insights and review our patient engagement materials.
We have the Nucleus Global Patient Engagement Panel, made up of a network of patients, PAGs and lay examiners, to support this important area of work. The group helps us ensure that we create patient-centered content and programs that are relevant, engaging, and accessible while meeting the needs of the target patient population.
Investments and structural changes like this may sound like big business decisions, but there are small changes companies can make to take a more holistic view of patients. Awareness of the many ways a diagnosis of a medical condition can affect a person – physically, emotionally, and socially – is a good place to start. Changing the way we talk and think about patients can make a surprisingly big difference in patient retention outcomes.