What are the implications of people like Iris in today's healthcare system? This kind of pro-patient broadcasting clearly
has the power to influence the physician/patient dynamic on a wide scale. Interestingly, when we asked physicians about this
phenomenon, responses varied by country (more positive in the UK, less positive in Italy for instance), but overall physician
reaction could be characterized as cautious at best.
This is either because the physician believes they are going to have to deal with a patient with the wrong information, or
because they have someone who wants to debate and challenge rather than just listen, therefore taking up precious time in
a consultation. Ultimately, this may lead to a more informed patient who is more adherent to medication, for example, but
it may also lead a misinformed patient who will ask for drugs not appropriate for them or make their own poor healthcare decisions
based on incorrect information and misplaced confidence.
Physicians in countries such as Italy and Spain, where the traditional patient/physician relationship is one where the patient
is highly deferential, find the arrival of this new type of patient perplexing and intimidating. These pro-patients come prepared,
have higher expectations than other patients and can have a more mature attitude towards their condition. However, as a diabetes
specialist in Italy told us: "It is easier to give information to someone who doesn't have any, rather than having to re-educate
those who have the wrong information ... it makes the consultation complicated and makes my life harder."
So perhaps surprisingly, even if a patient's source of information is good, or may have been from a pro-patient who broadcasted
with the best intentions to help educate, this can still be viewed less-than-positively by physicians. So as pharmaceutical
marketers, what lessons can we learn?
First of all, ensure you understand who is creating the online narrative in your category and even for your brand. Buzz monitoring services can help you do that.
This area of investigation can also help you synthesize what the competing dominant narratives are that are used to explain
your category (for example, genetics versus poor diet as etiology). Knowing the dominant narratives allows you to determine
whether your brand strategy will align with existing pro-patient beliefs.
Secondly, learn from the Netflix debacle that you ignore pro-patients at your peril. POLs want to know increasingly complex
information (they click on 'physician,' not 'patient,' when offered a choice of websites). They want to know the clinical
trial data and even physicians' financial relationships with a company. So go ahead and make this information accessible to
Thirdly, do not try to control them. They will continue to seek and to share information—perhaps not all of it accurate. But
in the unedited, anyone-is-author world of the Internet, you cannot control the information, misinformed or otherwise. Rather,
ensure patients have easy access to the correct information and think about how they may be able to help. Ipsos is working with the National Consumers League on its 'Script
Your Future' national patient adherence campaign (See Pharm Exec, December 2011) along with many patient advocacy groups such as Mended Hearts for patients with heart disease. Think about
how these Patient Opinion Leaders who are broadcasting online could support a strong adherence message.
Finally, think about how you can better equip the physician with information and tools to support their patient discussions.
This may include more detailed information about a disease area or medication, but may also include lists of recommended websites,
other reputable sources of information, or even the current dominant pro-patient narratives. As pharma companies strive for
ways to deliver value to HCPs beyond their brands, what about offering advice or training on how to deal with a misinformed
patient? Or to help physicians change their approach to a consultation, into one which resembles more of a peer-to-peer discussion?
Assisting with the softer skills that are required for facilitating consultations is where the pharmaceutical industry can
The emergence of the pro-patient should come as no surprise. After all, patients are just consumers with medical conditions.
We should expect them to act like consumers in all aspects of their lives. This means that those who have the passion will
want to influence others as much in the healthcare space as they do in the consumer space. The critical question is how we
can help physicians ensure that this empowered and passionate group of patients is channelled in the right direction. So,
for your 2012 marketing plan, next to your KOL strategy, add another line: POL Strategy.
Elys Roberts is President and CEO of Ipsos Health in North America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Phillips is head of health at Ipsos UK. She can be reached at email@example.com