What healthcare brands can learn from the Choosing Wisely movement
- “Today it's difficult to imagine having someone you don't know buy a product for you from a company you also don't know, then having someone else tell you how to use it, all the while giving you little to no choice over the product itself. It's especially unusual when you consider that this product could save, extend or increase your enjoyment of life.”
Ben Adams, editor of PMGroup
The current buzzword in the pharma industry is ‘patient centricity’. It’s a model that tries to put the patient’s needs at the heart of a brand’s strategy. This might seem blindingly obvious to those of you working with consumer brands, but until recently (and even now, some would argue), it was the physician’s wants and needs that came first.
The idea that we should have a direct and meaningful say in our treatment sounds obvious, but perhaps it’s too easily idealised. Many years ago an oncologist told me that the relationship between patient and doctor is much like that of husband and wife – “I wont tell if you don’t ask”. Given the sensitivity and seriousness of the conversations between patients and doctors, it’s easy to see how this could become the norm. Nobody wants to ask or answer awkward questions.
There is, however, a growing argument that treatment and care would improve if patients were to take more control over their situations. BBC Wales recently reported on the ‘Choosing Wisely Wales’ initiative, which hopes to reduce the number of wasteful or (in some cases) harmful interventions. They do this by empowering patients to have more meaningful conversations with their physicians, enabling them to have more information to hand when weighing up the value of a particular treatment.
The Choosing Wisely movement is growing in momentum and is now present in 18 countries. Their model is a simple one and revolves around providing the patient with four simple questions that they should ask their physician before embarking on a treatment.
- What are my options?
- How likely is it to harm or benefit me?
- Do I really need this?
- What can I do to help myself?
The aim is to put patients more in control of the outcomes of their condition. In addition, it may also reduce the number of unnecessary treatments or procedures. This could range from basic, but still expensive, treatments such as MRI scans for back pain to much more complex exploratory surgery. Patients having more control over their own treatments could also dramatically impact the types and duration of treatments given to those who are especially frail or terminally ill.
One area where this could have a significant impact is the treatment of cancer. There has long been a belief among some experts that chemotherapy is given too often. Sure, it’s effective, but it’s also incredibly toxic and harmful. These experts suggest that we may be subjecting too many people to this type of treatment when in fact there is little or no chance of a successful outcome. The question is, how many patients might be in a stronger position to make this kind of critical decision if they asked the key four questions suggested by the Choosing Wisely movement?
So, how might we as brand and communications experts play a role in this transformation? Well first off, we are the patient’s voice in the boardroom. It’s through our insights and strategic recommendations that the wants, needs and worries of patients can be brought to life for marketers and brand teams. We can also provide insight into the world of the physician. It’s easy to forget that doctors are real people too, faced with very real challenges, including limited time, facilities and emotional resources.
Our advice is critical in helping pharma companies and movements such as Choosing Wisely to understand the power and impact of communication, and how that can affect a successful outcome in discussions between doctors and patients. Given the depressingly short amount of time patients are given during a consultation – less than 10 minutes on average – choosing the right language is critical. There can be no room for ambiguity, or uncomfortable silences. The unspoken must be spoken. And this is where our expertise lies.
Health through the Culture Lens is a weekly series exploring important cultural currents in health and pharma
Image credit: fthmb.tqn.com
- Article by Lee Gazey