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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 pandemic.

In doing so, they learned that telehealth is often more accessible and convenient than in-office appointments. How can patient engagement strategies support better interactions between patients and institutions?

As the adoption of telehealth and HCP platforms rises alongside 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 various needs, including scheduling, obtaining test results, and conducting e-visits.

These patient preferences also impact how pharmaceutical companies conduct patient engagement around healthcare. Getting patient feedback at all stages of the product development process provides life science companies with valuable information that isn’t available anywhere else. Harnessing these insights effectively is essential.

Let’s discuss how to approach patient engagement strategies.

What is patient engagement in pharma?

Life science companies engage patients for all kinds of reasons. Simply put, patient engagement in the pharmaceutical industry involves interactions between the pharma company and patients or HCPs and patients to obtain insight that will result in better treatments, more positive health outcomes, and a higher return on investment.

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. This approach 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 an effective way to interact with patients. It can also increase patient satisfaction.

Life science companies are choosing this moment to step up patient engagement efforts for a few reasons. As discussed above, patients are more likely to use digital tools to engage with healthcare providers and organizations now than a few years ago. This is also a moment of unprecedented positive sentiment for life science companies.

Before 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 regularly.

But thanks to an unprecedented vaccine development effort, patients now have a better opinion of pharmaceutical and medical device companies. New research shows increased patient trust in the healthcare ecosystem, 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

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 have different perspectives on patient care. Patients feel differently about their disease state and quality of care. Patient activation during the drug development process provides an outlet for patients and supplies life science companies with valuable insights to help shape their patient and family-centered objectives.

These insights – paired with that of physicians and other healthcare professionals – create a more complete picture of specific disease communities.

What are some examples of patient engagement strategies in pharma?

Patients can have a role throughout the drug development process and may provide the most critical directional insight in early stages.

  • Rare disease advisory board – a medical affairs team wanted to understand the patient experience of living with a chronic rare disease. They engaged patients worldwide to get feedback on patient education materials and a gene therapy trial.
  • Virtual patient advocacy board – one patient advocacy team solicited patient feedback to understand how to share clinical trial research summaries with participants.
  • Optimize clinical trial design – a clinical development team engaged patients and investigators to discuss how to review and assess a phase II clinical trial protocol

One of the most notable examples of gathering patient perspectives in pharma on the Within3 platform included six groups of women in an anonymous session about a women’s health condition. The participants did not know the name of the pharma company holding the discussion, and none of the patients used their real names or other identifying information during the session.

During the meeting, the participants logged in to the platform conveniently daily. They answered questions, responded to comments from other patients, and asked their questions. The pharma company collected information about how women deal with the condition, where they seek information about treating it, and unmet needs among different patient populations.

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 anonymous patient advisory boards 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, any team can use some ground rules to execute 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 anonymous 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 can participate within the time frame for a meeting held on a virtual engagement platform. Consider moderation – who will moderate the session, and are they familiar with effective patient engagement practices?

Designing anonymous 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 interested during a session, particularly if there are many 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 communication barriers and including patients as experts, pharma and medical device teams can add a new dimension and more value to the product development process.

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


Accenture. Better together: 2019 patient services survey.
National Library of Medicine. Strategies for patient, family, and caregiver engagement.
Accenture. COVID-19 patient treatment survey.
National Library of Medicine. Patient Engagement by Pharma-Why and How? A Framework for Compliant Patient Engagement.

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