Educate patients and gain access

December 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Patient-centered education is one way that reps can differentiate their brand, particularly if there is a similar drug in the same class.

With the myriad choices prescribers face today, they need a reason to write for one product over another. Patient-centered education is one way that reps can differentiate their brand, particularly if there is a similar drug in the same class. Resourceful reps use patient-centered education as the reason for their sales call. Many stagger delivery of the program components to secure more callbacks.

Because physicians are receptive to patient-centered education, sales reps who supply it win more opportunities for restocking and detail time. The branded materials help reps promote top-of-the-mind awareness for their drug each time the physician grabs one, which can happen 20 to 30 times per day. Of course, access is a lot more than just getting in the door.

Patient-centered education helps reps build credibility. When reps provide patient-centered education to help patients better managed their medications, and their disease, health care becomes a shared goal. Furthermore, patient-centered education influences prescribers. In a recent independent survey, 80% of health care providers said they would be more willing to prescribe a brand when it is accompanied by a patient-education initiative.

What does a good patient-education program look like? And how does it give sales reps the wished-for response - the nod and smile from busy prescribers? That depends on the goals and objectives of the program. The one thing patient-centered programs have in common is that they help physicians counsel their patients. Otherwise, no two programs are alike.

Some patient-centered education programs, for example, are designed to raise public awareness of a condition or disease, like depression or prostate cancer. Others are focused more on prevention strategies for conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

Other programs may focus on family concerns that need to be addressed, such as the challenges faced by Alzheimer's Disease caregivers or partners of patients with HIV/AIDS. Then there are the programs that are built around the emotional side of an illness, such as helping a woman cope with the loss of a breast, uterus or ovaries.

Many other programs focus on skill-building techniques and strategies to motivate patients to adhere to treatment and make lifestyle changes.

To find the tone, shape and look of a patient-centered program, there are basic principles that are always applied in every search for the right solution. Together, they point the way to a procedural correctness with empathy for the patient. What follows is a step-by-step guide which can serve as a road map for patient-centered education.

Correct the patient's misconceptions about the disease and the medication. This helps to eliminate misinformation that the patient might use as a basis for dropping out of the treatment plan. Information should be accurate, concise and relevant. It is also important to acknowledge potential patient concerns and identify barriers to compliance.

Emphasize the risks and benefits of treatment. This helps the patient make informed choices and stick with them. Patients also need to understand the importance of taking their medication as prescribed.

Break the treatment plan into small, sequential steps. It is important to prioritize which steps the patient should focus on first. Information should be clear, simple and direct. Patients are included, and they learn what they need to know, but aren't burdened with all things technical.

Promote an 'active patient' theme. This gives patients responsibility for their self-care. The tone of the education should be conversational, not "med-speak." The information also helps patients talk more effectively with their physician.

Encourage family support. Patients who have the support of their family members are much more motivated to continue treatment.

Provide self-monitoring tools. This encourages patients to take a more active role in managing their disease and helps patients chart their progress toward achieving their treatment goals.

Positively reinforce the steps. No matter how small the progress is, positive reinforcement always encourages the patient to continue with treatment. Skill-building techniques help patients reinforce positive lifestyle changes.

Address the literacy and cultural values of the intended audience. Different audiences have different educational needs. First, you must get to know your audience. Are they children? Elderly? Latino? These and other factors must be reflected including the patient's age, beliefs and language system.

Keep the patient's attention. Simple illustrations, cartoons, and graphics are used to reinforce the message of the text. Words, sentence length, and the use of headings, type and sufficient space can help increase comprehension.

Provide additional resources. Organizations, Web sites and books can encourage patients to learn as much as they can to improve their health.

Test the message. This final, yet important step assures that patients receive, retain and respond to the right message. Education needs to be patient-tested for comprehension and physician-approved for medical accuracy. PR

Stephanie Mazzeo-Caputo is vice president of health education at Doctors+Designers in Westfield, NJ. To learn more about patient-centered education, contact Mazzeo-Caputo at (908) 654-4440.