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Identifying 5 Key Patient Experience Trends for 2021

By Kathryn Ticknor

Mon Nov 01 2021

Market research successfully accomplishes its goals when insights translate to action. Nowhere is that arguably more important than in the life sciences, where gaining a better understanding of patient and professional needs and expectations can make the difference between life and death. As head of research and design at inVibe Labs, I deem it my personal responsibility to ensure we give a voice to health stakeholders, and empower our clients with what we learn.

Inspired by the candid opinions and feelings of thousands of patients we’ve recorded, analyzed, and shared, I flew to Boston this mid-October to present at the DTC National Conference. Thrilled to keynote “Transforming the Patient Experience Through Innovative Market Research,” I presented an overview of the area of opportunity that inVibe fills, and demonstrated how our unique voice response technology brings out the best features of qualitative and quantitative research.

I was also excited to attend many of the other keynote presentations, panel discussions, and parallel track experiences throughout the two-day conference. Given my expertise in linguistic analysis and platform design, I viewed the industry perspectives through the lens of the patient experience and tech, and am eager to share my thoughts on the subject matter. After some reflection, I’ve broken down the takeaways into 5 essential DTC trends for 2021 and beyond:

Trend #1: COVID and the Growing Shift to Digital Health

The global pandemic has impacted all our lives, so assessing its seismic impact on DTC engagement and especially the patient experience was an apropos way to start the conference. Principals from ZS Associates presented on the latest shifts in health behavior due to COVID and their implications, revealing an eye-opening acceleration of legacy trends, including an exponential increase in telehealth, virtual care, remote monitoring, and connected health.

As the pandemic stubbornly continues to threaten and inconvenience life, the return to normalcy has been delayed. The realization is also taking hold that many of the transformative trends triggered by the lockdowns and physical distancing may indefinitely persist, and even become permanent. Of these, none are more striking to me than the rethinking of the point of care experience, and how patients have been offered ever-greater flexibility and empowerment.

Patients, their physicians, and all healthcare system stakeholders have been given convenient and scalable options with the expanded and increasingly immersive utilization of digital video, biosensing, and other virtual technologies. At inVibe Labs, we’ve already witnessed success from implementing voice-response tech, human and machine learning analytics, and dynamic reporting for market research. Patient voices are finally being heard.

Trend #2: Expansion of Digital Touchpoints Throughout the Health System

Another compelling trend reshaping DTC engagement is expansion of digital beyond the point of care. Ritesh Patel of Finn Partners led a vibrant panel discussion focused on digital acceleration of the pharmacy and pharmacist. The inexorable evolution of brick and mortar pharmacies into virtual laboratories finally capable of taking advantage of years of progress in mobile health and eCommerce is yet another benefit of the otherwise devastating pandemic.

The panel revealed exciting innovations from the integration of health trackers and other compliance-boosting tech to Amazon-like ordering convenience and follow up. With patient needs at long last front and center, the utility and personalization offered by now routine app-driven digital services is poised to redefine the pharmacy experience, and augment the role of the pharmacist as extended support between patients, professionals, and pharma brands.

Lisa Brookwalter of Twitter led a discussion on another expanding digital touchpoint, the growth of social media as a primary screen for patients. Joined by Patty Ryan of Publicis and Steven Xie of Biohaven Pharma, the group shared how channels such as YouTube and Twitter often supplant broadcast media in effectiveness for DTC, becoming go-to resources for health information and peer-to-peer support to millions of increasingly empowered patients.

Trend #3: Fixing Health Disparities through Improved Digital Access

Another captivating group of experts featuring Dr. Jessica Shepherd of Verywell, Roslyn Daniels of Black Health Matters and others discussed the impactful creation of intentional, authentic DTC communications for multicultural communities. Keys to success are understanding preferred channels, developing a relevant and emotionally impactful lexicon, and educating internal reviewers on the nuances of properly connecting with often disenfranchised segments.

This discussion alongside the social media panel particularly resonated with me, since a big component of my work with inVibe is helping life sciences companies better engage with patients of diverse backgrounds and nuanced expectations. Historically, market research has endured some implicit biases due to sample selection criteria and methodology; by empowering subjects to collect voice data from their own phones, we have strived for universal access.

Sheila Thorne of the Multicultural Healthcare Marketing Group also pointed out the singular importance of appropriate creative and content, another area where inVibe has shed light. Too often, pharma companies lack the patient sensitivities and insights to fully understand and appreciate cultural references, distinctive community needs, and lingering societal prejudices. By analyzing and extracting best practices from the patients themselves, progress is made.

Trend #4: Big Data 2.0 -- Next Generation Analytics to Heighten Patient Engagement

The future of digital marketing was brought to life with the help of a keynote from Hart Mechlin of Veeva, who demonstrated the latest advances in precision targeting, dynamic engagement, and ROI substantiation using sophisticated analytics. I was fascinated by the extent to which marketers gain understanding of our healthcare audiences throughout their treatment journey, and how measurement across multiple platforms and channels can create dimensional profiles.

We take data processing equally seriously at inVibe, adapting the latest in AI and machine learning tech to augment human linguistic analysis of direct voice responses from patients. Many of the same tools used by tech giants are incredibly useful for extracting patient insights from their candid and often chaotic feedback; also similar is our use of data visualization and dynamic reporting to convey actionable recommendations designed to heighten engagement.

As another illustrative example of big data power, media fragmentation and the need for balancing budgets were elucidated by Ryan Wilson and Carens of Samsung. Their essential takeaway: the transforming market, driven by changing patient user behaviors, demands a re-evaluation of spend between linear TV and ad-supported streaming services, among other channels. I loved hearing how major players are listening to patients, too, here in aggregate.

Trend #5: Better DTC Advertising through Better Understanding of Patient Needs

John Kenny of InTouch Solutions highlighted the vital importance of authenticity when it comes to DTC engagement, hitting home the need for establishing trust and genuine connection. Pharma tends to communicate with patients through the lens of their disease burden, rather than taking a few steps back and building a relationship based on their holistic needs and expectations as complex, multidimensional people seeking guidance and emotional support.

Copresenters Bonnie Jean Perkins of Alexion and Julie Cosgrove of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals demonstrated how these humanistic strategies are even more vital for rare diseases, where the patient communities are small and identification remains a main goal. I strongly related to both keynotes, my work at inVibe similarly focused on encouraging patients to transparently share their thoughts and feelings about the best way to create and sustain a meaningful connection.

I’m hopeful and confident that by listening and responding to the patient voice across multiple disease states, the life sciences industry can improve patient engagement and empowerment. The ultimate result for DTC marketers is a better and more lasting connection between brands and their beneficiaries, realized through improved creative, content, and downstream media activation that makes a difference. I’m privileged to help our industry listen and learn.

Let’s Continue the Conversation…

If you saw my presentation at DTC National in Boston on October 13th, then thank you for attending, and I can’t wait to hear your feedback. And if you couldn’t make it, the fine folks at DTC Perspectives are making it available online for the 2021 Xpectives.Health Virtual Summit on November 3 at 12:15pm. Continuing the spirit of open communication and listening, I’m eager to tell you more about our exciting work at inVibe, offer you a demonstration, and learn more about your market research needs.

Thanks for reading!

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