Social media: It’s the end of adherence as we know it

Written by Silja on 11 May 2009 in Adherence, epatients - 8 Comments

Patients go online to find out whether it is worth it to adhere to their treatment. This presents a complete mind-shift in pharma’s thinking about adherence – especially in light of social media.

Patients’ decisions are going to be driven by a mix of hard facts and emotions. The article “Patient adherence-it’s all in what you don’t know” by Lisa Roner, chief editor of eyeforpharma, points to the factors that drive patients’ non-adherence:

“A non-adherent patient is someone who doesn’t think their medication is working, doesn’t want it controlling their life, or doesn’t trust their doctor…They’ve made a conscious, emotional decision to stop taking their medication, so reminding them is pointless. If you try to change someone’s thinking and your approach is completely out of context for them, it’s much more challenging than if you try to frame your approach within a context that’s familiar and meaningful.”

From this article, I realized that the traditional  pharma-sponsored programs sending out messages to remind patients to take their pill are going to be of limited effectiveness in this new paradigm. Patients now need to be convinced that treatment benefits are more important than its costs, side effects and impact on the quality of life.

Social media, I believe, is an amazing opportunity for pharma to engage with patients on the iffy topic of adherence. It provides the meaningful context and personal involvement required to teach patients about the value of treatment adherence. Amy Tenderich, writer of the famous blog diabetesmine calls this treating illness with information:

“Traditionally, a “prescription” meant a piece of paper that got you a vial of pills or other medication you were meant to take until your next meeting with your doctor. Today, health professionals increasingly recognize that LEARNING is part of the prescription…”

While at the moment making the case for treatment worth is optional, it may become mandatory soon. In his latest New York Times interview, President Obama welcomes the increased involvement in treatment decisions of some patients. Yet he acknowledges that not all patients are willing or able to seek through the online jungle of health information. Therefore, the President sees an important role for government in evaluating treatments for patients:

“And part of what I think government can do effectively is to be an honest broker in assessing and evaluating treatment options. ”

In the near future, pharma companies will thus need to make a compelling case to patients and the government as to why treatment adherence is worth it. They will need to generate exact data on what it means to be adherent and what the impact will be if you are not.  Social media can be a great way of gathering this data (see this analysis from patientslikeme – thanks Lisa Emrich for helping me find this ;-) )

Pharma should also seek to collaborate with the existing online community to make their case for adherence available online in a context that patients trust and feel comfortable with.

8 Comments on "Social media: It’s the end of adherence as we know it"

  1. Supergelule 12 May 2009 at 15 h 54 min ·

    Adherence is a big deal, and this article is just another brilliant one…
    Pharmacist, i found whydot and your blog via Francis’ website. Really interesting.

  2. Tom Donnelly 26 May 2009 at 20 h 18 min ·

    I agree that non-adherence is huge factor affecting the health and wellness landscape. I also agree that social media can and should play a big role in increasing adherence. But is social media the end of adherence as we know it? Consider these two facts:
    • the number one reason typically given for non-adherence is the cost of medication
    • only about 8% of US consumers are aware of their own non-compliance
    This indicates that patients don’t even realize that they are being non-adherent and for a large portion of patients that do realize it, they simply can’t afford the medications.
    It certainly benefits pharmaceutical companies to invest in adherence programs when you think about the fact that it costs pharmaceutical companies 62% more to acquire a new patient than it does to keep and existing one. My suggestion is simply that they use the right mix of social media and traditional methods i.e., couponing, co-pay cards etc. based on the needs of the patients.

  3. Silja 29 May 2009 at 10 h 26 min ·

    Thanks for your comment and I agree with you:
    Pharma has to understand the full context of the patient and their disease. Affordability and access are an integral part of this.
    You also bring up an important point about the awareness of what constitutes adherence. This is why I believe that there has to be much more communication and convincing coming from pharma on adherence. Show me the data that proves that if I take the medicine only 9 times out of 10 it does make an important difference.

  4. KrisBelucci 2 June 2009 at 0 h 52 min ·

    Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be coming back to your site.

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