Achieving an Authentic Patient Dialogue

Placing the Patient at the Epicenter of Communications

We attended the ExL 12th Annual Public Relations & Communications Summit, which brought together healthcare communicators from across the country. The agenda focused on the need for communications experts to address consumer expectations and engage in a responsible dialogue with patients in order to build disease and product awareness, education and engagement. One main take-away for us was the importance in building an authentic patient dialogue. Through a variety of perspectives on the topic of a patient dialogue came interesting insights on the different roles patients can play throughout communications. Here are a few quotes we found impactful in illustrating these roles:
  • Decision-Makers: Candace Steele Flippin, Vice President, External Communications, St. Jude Medical, stated that, “Patient centric means no decision about me, without me.” Whether a clinical trial is being conducted, or advocacy briefings or FDA advisory panels are taking place, patients need to be a part of the conversation to take into account their individual experiences and inform decisions moving forward.
  • Expert Resources: “Patients are experts in their condition.” – Kerri Sparling, Writer/Editor, Six Until Me. This is a great point on remembering not to overlook the value that patients can add as a resource from the information that they’ve learned at every stage – diagnosis, selecting treatment and often managing a chronic condition.
  • Individuals: Laura DiBenedetto, Manager of Corporate Communications, Acorda Therapeutics, pointed out that, “We’re trying to fit what’s right for which patient. There is no one size fits all.” While creating messaging and materials, it’s essential to keep in mind that each patient is different and the information needs to be flexible enough to support patients that bring varied life experiences and expectations to treatment choices and care.
  • Story-Tellers: “With all the talk about story-telling, we need to remember that the brand or innovation or treatment isn’t the hero of the story. We’re playing a small, critical role in a patient’s story. Remember that it’s their story, not the autobiography of the brand.” – Buddy Scalera, Senior Digital Content Strategy, the Medicines Company. Keeping this perspective enables companies to pull themselves out of the picture and keep the spotlight where it belongs – on the patient.
Patients can often be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available and they are seeking information beyond just risk/benefits. They are looking for the advice that helps address the question, how do I build my life around this disease? And, how do I navigate a “new normal” as a patient? From decision-makers to story-tellers to trial participants, it’s crucial to ensure the patient’s perspective is integral at every stage of communications and is a “north star” to help make decisions for the brand in the short and long-term. And, it is the right and responsibility of communications teams to make sure that is happening at every step along the way.