5 Milestones in the Patient Journey Every Healthcare Marketer Needs to Understand

Healthcare marketers are increasingly focused on more patient-centric approaches in order to develop effective ways to bridge gaps between patients & healthcare practitioners (HCPs). What used to be solely directed to physicians as prescribers and influencers for patients, now starts with patients.

Here’s why: understanding the patient experience involves understanding emotions around different milestones –   [1] pre-diagnosis suffering through [2] diagnosis, [3] post-diagnosis (3 months after), [4] living with the disease and [5] looking to the future while managing outcomes and treatment. And Patient Journey research is about focusing on these different milestones, in order to develop communications to improve the patient-doctor dialogue at each stage.

DOWNLOAD NOW!   'Mapping the Patient Journey' White Paper

And while we’ve developed our own approach to Patient Journey research, at BuzzBack we’re also focused on the changing consumer. Millennials, Gen X, and even Boomers are turning to digital tools, relying on smartphones and apps for news, weather and increasingly health info.

With more than 64% of adult US households having smartphones, the patient experience is no longer solely about the doctor relationship.

According to Hospitals & Health Networks, today’s patients are searching for doctors online, making appointments online, finding urgent care centers, monitoring their activity with wearables, etc. Healthcare marketers are creating detail aids and journal pieces, but also new apps and web-based support programs to get closer to patients. However, the underlying emotions driving their behavior are still similar. That means an even greater need to identify and deep dive into the patient journey. Developing effective tools, digital or other, stems from identifying insights linked to consumer emotions.

To find out more about how we obtained in-depth feedback by using imagery as a catalyst to map out the these 5 milestones of the patient experience, download our Patient Journey white paper now.

Patient Perspective is Unimportant Here

That’s what some people will still tell you in the healthcare industry in America. “Patients can’t tell you anything important”. Too many times, we encounter people who think the patient perspective can be obtained through someone else. “Doctors tell the patient story well,” they’ll say. Or, “We already know what patients need”. My favorite is this one: “The patient perspective doesn’t really matter here because they don’t have any say in product choice or usage.” It’s always left me silent when I hear this from folks in marketing, or physicians or executives. Do you care what the patient feels? How they perceive their illness, their body, in this context? In these cases, it seems like everyone knows what the patient wants, except the patient. Countless people have brought patient perspectives to the forefront in the past fifteen years, so it’s surprising to encounter this underlying bias.

In the research work that I do, the patient voice and the patient’s imagination are the most important focus for me. I know a lot of people agree, but I find that sometimes even the best intentioned people only go halfway in their efforts to let the patient represent their own point of view. Recently I came across an article in the Huffington Post about people who suffer from migraines. Several of them provided a brief metaphoric description of how they experience their symptoms (e.g., “It leaves my brain feeling like a wrung out washrag.” Or, “It feels like I’m pushing my head against a pallet of bricks.”). My reaction was really positive – here’s a national media outlet giving voice to sufferers of a neurological disorder.

DOWNLOAD NOW!   'Mapping the Patient Journey' White Paper

Along with the narrative descriptions, pictures illustrate these same symptoms (e.g., a face in agony with a washcloth being twisted over it). Something was off with the pictures – they all looked similar and they were way too polished. In fact, a HuffPost artist had created the pictures, rather than the patients themselves. “What a shame,” I thought. “There would be so much rich insight offered by getting them to draw their own self-portraits.”

At BuzzBack, we often ask patients to create pictures or collages about some experience they’ve had, or in response to an idea we present (an ad, a package, a description of a drug, etc.). Then we ask them to tell a story about their picture. We’ll do this across as many people as seems reasonable. Sometimes it’s 1,000 patients, and sometimes a lot fewer. For sufferers of rare diseases, we’ll do it with the ones we can gather – maybe 25 or 30. We do it in the US, and in many other countries too.

At one point we started asking doctors and other healthcare professionals to engage in this free form, creative work based in imagery. Surprisingly, the professionals do it willingly and energetically, and we now do just as much work with them as with patients. Talk about a group that needs a creative outlet to vent their issues: doctors must be the most frustrated profession in America. In a 2014 survey of physicians, 81% said they were over-extended, and 29% would choose a different career if they could go back. Within this framework, they love to create pictures and tell us stories, too.

Sometimes, we’ll ask doctors to depict a patient with “disease X”. At the same time, we’ll ask patients with the condition to describe their doctor, or themselves, or some other aspect of the disease and its treatment. Then we tie the two perspectives – two sets of images and stories – together. What do they have in common? Where are there discrepancies?

As one might imagine, we get a rich visual collection tied in with a strong narrative assemblage. It’s the patient story and the doctor story together. For clients, it’s crucial for coming to a better understanding of the disease their drug treats. We find unmet needs, the extent of the struggle, the concerns and issues that doctors and patients both have. It all comes from personal experience, and personal perspective. It’s unfiltered and extremely rich. And we don’t draw the pictures for the patients, we let them do it themselves.

To find out more about how we do what we do, download our Patient Journey white paper now.


Population Health and Meaningful Use: Where is the patient?

The Meaningful Use criteria for implementation of electronic health record systems will be getting a new set of standards next year. MU offers $30 billion in subsidies to doctors who get their electronic systems up to speed… Previously, doctors have only had to prove installation and usage of EHR to get subsidies; now they need to implement Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) reporting. PQRS requirements are being pitched to doctors as helping them focus on patient outcomes. However, according to the new value model imposed by ACA, doctors will be reimbursed on outcomes demonstrated in PQRS reporting. Medicare reimbursement will be prorated at certain quality levels, rather than given simply for treating a patient, and many insurance companies have adopted value standards as well.

Population health metrics are important from a micro and macro perspective. Some doctors are already using population health. Most are either annoyed or confused by the transition, and don’t understand their patients any better after implementation. Doctors really don’t have time. Institutions are under-staffed. The imperative goes unfulfilled.

As information technology has evolved, it certainly became possible to analyze massive datasets, and “big data” is all the rage. In addition to the government, others are driving their understanding of patients through massive databases. Big pharma and health insurers are two examples. On the other hand, it is also becoming easier for computers to analyze “soft” data, like written texts,  images, or even facial expressions. IBM’s Watson famously relies on  unstructured data, and IBM is focusing a lot of energy on understanding the healthcare universe. Further out, sentic computing systems are being developed to understand, and respond to, the emotional state of the user.

The incredible growth in social media proves that it is already possible for people to develop and maintain emotionally satisfying relationships via computer interface. Most of the communities are heavily based in visual imagery as the primary vector for communication.

While it isn’t possible to replace physicians with computerized simulacra of them (but will this really always be true?), it could be possible to provide patients with a focused forum to engage in rich communication about health and illness. This forum doesn’t fulfill the role that physicians still occupy, but enhances it in a way that patients associate the online activities with the provider. This would be a real model of patient engagement.

BuzzBack has long focused efforts on integrating quantitative analysis with “softer” variables. How does the respondent (doctor or patient) feel and think when we let them play with pictures, or ask them to write a story? How do these creative and unconscious processes relate to a drug, disease or medical situation? Then, what happens when we quantify the results of these creative exercises across hundreds, or thousands of people? We have done work like this for pharmaceutical companies to understand how physicians and patients interact with, and feel about, each other. How well do they understand a product promise and what does it mean to them? There are many different contexts and situations where BuzzBack integrates image-based and story-based methods into quantitative studies. These help our clients get a deeper understanding of the customer.

EHR and PQRS certainly perform extremely important tasks. However, they don’t really help understand patient motivations and needs better unless system designers find ways to step outside the box of straightforward rational thinking. At BuzzBack we’ve been stepping outside the box for a while, understanding patient behavior in ways that matter. For example, we’ve looked at the emotions that drive dialog between patients and physicians in multiple therapeutic areas. Using pictures as a vector to communication of underlying feelings, we’ve looked at how doctors feel about medication treatments in a variety of disease categories. What works for them, what doesn’t, and why do they choose different drug brands? We’ve worked with both patients and doctors, asking them to tell stories about each other, or to imagine conversations about difficult situations. The results of these studies are usually pretty surprising. We access the kinds of things missing from how the industry at large looks at patients and physicians: as a collection of myriad data points. They “forgot” to build in the vital human qualities, but we’re trying to patch the gaps, piece by piece.

What Do You Do With Your Unwanted or Expired Medications?

Did you know that April 26 is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day?  The DEA is working with local law enforcement agencies to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications. They previously held this event on October 26th and collected 647,211 pounds (324 tons) of unwanted or expired medications.

BuzzBack recently sponsored a type 2 diabetes study last year with both patients and physicians.  Physicians indicated that they must focus on patient compliance with patients.  Other studies we have done for clients also indicate a patient compliance problem, mainly around “if I feel better and no longer have symptoms, I don’t have to finish my medicine.”  This poor patient compliance results in many expired medicine sitting in people’s medicine cabinets and drawers.

Flushing your pills down the toilet can affect the environment and throwing pills away may end up in the wrong hands, so disposing of these meds this way is a win/win situation.

Local law enforcement agencies are sponsoring drop offs throughout the country.  Follow this link to enter your zip code and find sites in your area where you can drop off your old medications. Turn in your unused or expired medications at a safe disposal site and save the environment and help avoid abuse of these expired medications.


A New Spokesperson for COPD?

In case you missed it, the man most notably recognized for his tag line, “Live Long and Prosper” came out as being diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) just a week and a half ago. Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the original Star Trek series is one of only a few celebrities to announce they’ve fallen ill with COPD. With his upfront approach and recent interview, the beloved actor is fast becoming the newest spokesperson to shed light on the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. (and the 5th leading cause of death in the U.K.).

A few days later, a U.K. study was released that found doctors are missing opportunities to diagnose COPD earlier. The retrospective study of almost 39,000 patients showed that “5 years before diagnosis, 85% of patients had visited their GP or a secondary care clinic at least once with lower respiratory symptoms.”

The World Health Organization predicts “that COPD will become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.” With COPD on the rise, it’s quite obvious that the world needs to not only shine a light on this under-diagnosed disease for patients but for physicians as well. The timing of Leonard Nimoy’s recent admission along with the findings from this new study might help do just that.

At BuzzBack, we too were interested in understanding COPD better from a physician and patient perspective, so we decided to take a different approach that was highly effective in eliciting honest responses from both doctors and patients in a pre-established ‘safe-space’. Respondents participated in two BuzzBack Hive sessions over a one week period; they posted comments based on tasks and were encouraged to interact with other participants in the group. Interestingly, we learned that although current recommended and reported treatments involve few lifestyle modifications, patients’ advice to other COPD sufferers is almost strictly related to daily routine. Patients strongly suggest sufferers stop smoking, exercise, eat healthily, take medications, and establish consistency in doctor visits; this appears to be aspirational as many admit they struggle to follow their own advice.

For his part, Mr. Nimoy appears to be taking an upfront, positive approach to dealing with his diagnosis and much like the patients from our study is dishing out his own advice, albeit via twitter. Since his spotlight is a lot brighter than most suffering with COPD, maybe, just maybe the world will take notice.

To learn more about our COPD Study, like what doctors and patients said about new treatments,  send us an email.