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Close to Home: Is Good Health Communicable?


Pharmaceutical Executive

The 2011 Edelman Health Barometer suggests that-in the same way that we spread colds, diseases, and other illnesses from person to person-good health and healthy behaviors can also be spread. Can pharma play a pivotal role in the good-health epidemic?

The 2011 Edelman Health Barometer suggests that-in the same way that we spread colds, diseases, and other illnesses from person to person-good health and healthy behaviors can also be spread. Can pharma play a pivotal role in the good-health epidemic?

Energy. An active lifestyle. Mental and emotional stability. Absence of disease. Nutrition. These are some of the words and phrases that the public used to define “health” in the 2011 Edelman Health Barometer, released in October.

“What does it mean to be healthy?” Edelman posed this open-ended question to 15,000 respondents in 12 countries and captured, verbatim, the public response. “The public is redefining ‘healthy’ as ‘How I act, what action I can take, and what actions I do take,’ rather than just ‘how I am,’” explains Nancy Mensch Turett, global chair, Health, at Edelman. And increasingly, the barometer found, this less frequently means people’s perceptions of the environment and their dealings with the healthcare system, and more often their own lifestyle and nutrition choices. “And when we asked people who influences their health-their lifestyle and nutrition-the most, second only to themselves were family and friends.”

The implications of such a statement are far-reaching. It means that regardless what standards of health or beauty we see in Hollywood, which hot new fitness personality bombards us with ads, or even how many times our doctor tells us we should really drop a few pounds, what’s really going to influence our behavior and help spread the habits that make good health communicable is each other.

“We believe there is no such thing as a non-communicable disease,” says Turett. “All diseases are communicable, whether through viruses, bacteria, behavior, or a combination of these things. A key to the future well-being of the healthcare industry, but even more importantly to society, is to understand the communicable nature of all health.” For example, the barometer found that 31 percent of respondents will spend less time with a friend because of the friend’s unhealthy behavior. Additionally, according to study results, the idea of influencing one’s peers and driving communicable good health is a bigger motivator for maintaining one’s own healthy habits than personal gain-41 percent of respondents listed “realizing that the long-term health benefit of another person would improve” as their primary trigger of action in personal health advocacy. Another 28 percent listed their primary trigger as “making a personal commitment to help others.”

Turett compares being healthy to being “green” in that, like environmental consciousness, “the sustainability of our species depends on it.” Health is “the most personal of public issues and the most public of personal issues,” she says, and so “people are very attuned to brands’ and companies’ engagement in health. And from the standpoint of the pharmaceutical industry and the healthcare industry more broadly, this means that because your business is actually a social issue-one that people feel so personally and strongly about, and is such a big public issue from an economic and societal viewpoint-people in the business of health need to attend to the social as well as the business impact of their actions.”

Much like the “green” movement, the public in fact expects government, corporations, and healthcare stakeholders to be a positive influence. And despite the bad rep we sometimes believe pharma has earned for focusing only on the bottom line, the truth is, pharma is in fact a trusted authority whose input the public values-and expects-when it comes to health issues. “In our first study we saw that the public craves engagement from the brands and companies that are involved in health,” she confirms. “The public feels that being active in health is actually an imperative for businesses across the board. People are basically saying, if you want to be relevant to me and really make a difference in my health, you need to support lifestyle and nutrition. You can’t just come to me through other channels like the healthcare system.”

This year’s health barometer confirmed those findings, showing that all businesses are expected to engage with their employees and the public as a whole on health issues, through avenues such as education communications, public policy, philanthropy, partnerships, and innovation centered on spreading and encouraging healthy behaviors.

When you consider the heavy influence of peers on health today, the digital world can no longer be overlooked. Online health communities of peers-groups of patients with the same diseases and health conditions commiserating and collaborating together-are undoubtedly part of the peer influence in today’s “health 2.0” environment. And those in this multimedia space also agree that pharma has a rightful place at the table when it comes to making good health communicable. “Patients in these online communities are not cynical of pharma for the most part. I think this almost conventional wisdom that patients are skeptical or cynical of pharma companies-I don’t see that,” says Brian Loew, CEO of Inspire, which partners with nonprofit organizations to create and host online support communities for patients and caregivers in specific therapeutic areas. “You don’t see patients looking for bad guys and conspiracy theorists. You see patients who are saying, ‘I’m really grateful that I have these treatments. I’m trying to fine-tune it, I’m trying to find out what the best treatment is,’ but they’re incredibly appreciative of the therapeutic drugs that they are taking. And they overwhelmingly don’t have animosity towards the companies. I’d love it if we could debunk some of that, because I think people feel good about pharma companies.”

Catie Coman, director of communications at the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF)-which has partnered with Inspire for a patient online community called TalkPsoriasis-agrees. “Patients look to the pharma companies and their websites for authoritative information. So, if I want to learn everything possible about what’s on the label for a psoriasis treatment, for example, I go to the manufacturer’s website. I think they look to pharma information as valuable reference material, at least based on what we see.”

Indeed, in a new study-ePharma Consumer 2011-released by pharmaceutical and healthcare market research company Manhattan Research, 42 percent of online consumers agree that pharmaceutical companies should be involved in online health communities for consumers. The study, of 6,643 U.S. residents ages 18 and over, also found that 39 percent of online U.S. adults visit pharma prescription drug websites, and 35 percent visit pharma corporate websites. Clearly, the messages pharma chooses to send matter, and in fact consumers are looking for more, not less, input from pharma. “We asked online consumers about their use of and interest in various types of online information and tools from pharma companies. The results revealed that there is considerable unmet demand for disease management support (online tools or information to help manage a condition) and consult preparation (guide or tools to help prepare for a discussion with a doctor),” Manhattan Research told Pharm Exec.

“Pharmaceutical marketers and communicators who are looking to really create communities of health, and to support not only the healing but also the prevention of unnecessary progression of disease, really should be looking at the social unit and not just the individual,” says Turett.

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