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October 13, 2021

A guide to patient engagement strategies

Healthcare professionals know the importance of getting patients invested in their own care. Now, life science companies are engaging patients all along the product development lifecycle.
patient engagement strategies

Telehealth is experiencing an upswing, mostly driven by pandemic-related necessity. Many patients used telehealth or digital health management apps for the first time during restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 virus, and in doing so, learned something important: telehealth is often more accessible and convenient than in-office appointments.

As the adoption of telehealth and other digital health management tools continues to rise alongside the use of wearables like fitness watches, healthcare providers (HCPs) will look for other ways to optimize patient-centered healthcare. Patients who are engaged in managing their health can have better outcomes and tend to be more compliant with medication and other regimens than those who aren’t. Therefore, it’s in doctors’ best interest to encourage patients to engage digitally for a variety of needs, including scheduling, obtaining test results, and conducting e-visits.

These patient preferences are also impacting how pharmaceutical and medical device companies conduct patient engagement around healthcare. Obtaining patient feedback at all stages of the product development process provides life science companies with valuable feedback that isn’t available anywhere else. Harnessing these insights in the most effective way possible is essential, so let’s discuss how to approach patient engagement strategies.

Why should life science companies have a patient engagement strategy?

Pharmaceutical and medical device teams are prioritizing virtual engagement as part of a more holistic insights management strategy – an approach that treats insight-gathering as a single strategic process rather than a disconnected series of siloed activities. Patient-centered technology fits into this process and provides life science teams with an effective way to interact with patients.

There are a few reasons life science companies are choosing this moment to step up patient engagement efforts. As discussed above, patients are more likely to use digital tools to engage with healthcare providers and organizations now than even a few years ago. This is also a moment of unprecedented positive sentiment for life science companies. Prior to the pandemic, just 47% of patients said they felt pharmaceutical companies understood their emotional, financial, and other needs related to their chronic condition, and only a third reported interacting with a pharmaceutical company on a regular basis. But thanks to an unprecedented vaccine development effort, patients now have a better opinion of pharmaceutical and medical device companies. New research shows that patient trust in the health care ecosystem has increased overall, with a boost of 45% for pharmaceutical companies and 44% for medical device companies.

What processes does patient engagement impact in pharma?

Patients are a wealth of information that can impact the trajectory of a product during development and post-launch. Examples of how patients can participate in the product development process include:

  • Input on proposed trial protocols
  • As key stakeholders in patient-focused drug development
  • Sharing personal experiences of different conditions, across all types of demographics, from time of diagnosis through treatment or living with a chronic disease
  • Feedback on proposed patient-facing educational materials, including brochures, advertisements, videos, and websites
  • Sharing impressions of administration or dosing regimens
  • Participating in market research

In other words, patients are a key part of the scientific narrative that develops over a product’s lifecycle. While physicians can share what their patients tell them, they can directly share their patient experiences. This provides an outlet for patients and supplies life science companies with valuable insights that help shape product development. These insights – paired with that of physicians and other healthcare professionals – create a more complete picture of specific disease communities.

How should life science teams develop patient engagement strategies?

Patient engagement strategies will vary based on what stage of the product lifecycle a team is working on. Patients involved with clinical teams may provide feedback on trial design or trial enrollment materials. For medical affairs, patients may participate in blinded advisory board meetings to share patient experiences including their diagnosis or treatment. Marketing and commercial teams may ask patients to help create patient education materials. Whatever the use case, there are some ground rules any team can use in executing a successful patient engagement strategy to obtain patient insights.

Some of these ground rules include best practices around the following activities:

  • Choosing the right participants – both patients and moderators
  • Designing blind or double-blind sessions
  • Choosing the right questions to prompt robust discussion and patient participation
  • How to maintain confidentiality

Choosing participants. Teams need to be certain they are engaging with the right patients for participation – those who meet specific criteria and are able to participate within the time frame for a meeting held on a virtual engagement platform. Give some thought to moderation – who will moderate the session, and are they familiar with effective patient engagement practices?

Designing blind and double-blind sessions. Protecting the identity of patients during a session can be necessary to ensure compliance. Names and logos of pharmaceutical companies can also be hidden by using an unbranded online space when desired. If there is a webcast component to the session, we recommend using a webinar option that does not enable members to see one another.

Questions and content. Asking the right questions will help pharmaceutical teams get the insight they need to achieve their objectives. Varying the types of questions asked will also help keep the participants’ interest during a session, particularly if there are a high number of questions.

Maintaining confidentiality. Pharmaceutical teams can take advantage of several opportunities to remind participants of the need for confidentiality. For the most part, simply reminding participants not to include any identifying information, names, or other personally identifiable information should suffice.

Effective patient engagement reinforces a life science company’s commitment to patient centricity. By eliminating barriers to communications and including patients as experts in their own right, pharma and medical device teams can add a new dimension and more value to the product development process.

Dive a little deeper into what it means to make patients part of your insights management strategy – read our blog post.

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