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.