“I cannot check you in, but that is not BA’s problem.” This was the infuriating answer I got from a flight attendant with the captivating charm of the Wandsworth prison gate. All I needed was access to the internet to fix a bug in the new online US visa application system. It was 6 am, I was her ONLY customer, and there was no Internet available at the ENTIRE Basel airport (Yes, Mam, I did go outside, downstairs, upstairs, tried the French side of the airport and the 3G on my iphone, which by the way is not compatible with your crappy website.). Still my new friend, the British Airways associate, refused to help me out by pulling up the site on her computer. Unimpressed by the speaker announcement that my flight was about to embark, she stared me dead in the eyes instead and said: “I cannot help you with that, it is against our policy!”.
I am sure that all of you had these travel moments when your life tips from cruise mode into a survival-of-the-fittest exercise. In customer service jargon, they are called “moments of truth”. They are the instances of contact you forge a lasting impression about a company or product. In airline travel, we encounter many of these moments: when we book our tickets, call to make a change, check-in, get to the gate, pick up our bags etc. Yet it is only the moments when things go really wrong, eg. when our bags do not show up as expected, that we start to truly care about customer service. It is these moments that decide whether you will build deep loyalty or profound despise for a brand.
Well, BA and I were having such a moment. After I had exhausted my entire repertoire of legendary persistence, resourceful persuasiveness and European language skills, I was convinced: I was a guinea pig in a secret BA trial to determine just how many absurd guidelines it could conceive…and I nominated my favorite BA jailer for the employee-of-the-year award: she did not budge an inch! Customer service at its worst. (Read till the end to learn whether I manged to embark .)
Now that I am back in the fully-wifi-enable world again, I came across this amazing post by Trisha Torrey and moving mural (see below) by Regina Holliday depicting e-patients and the books they wrote about their experiences with the US health care system or better about those moments in which it broke down. Each one of them had to fight the system that was supposed to take care of them. For them there was much more at stake than simply missing a flight though, it was more like missing the boat on LIFE!
The odyssey by e-patient Dave, especially intrigued me, because it got me thinking about pharma’s opportunities to manage patients’ moments of truth around clinical trials. Dave was diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer and a median survival time of 24 weeks. He survived solely because of his courageus attitude and his determination to participate in his treatment decisions. Finally though his cure came in form of a Proleukin clinical trial.
What awes me in his inspiring story is this: Pharma companies, especially in cancer, are desperately competing with one another to enroll eligible patients in their trials in order to bring innovative medicines to market as quickly and efficiently as possible. If clinical trials are a crucial part of a pharma company’s success, it appears as though they are also one of pharma’s best kept secrets.
Dave surely would not have heard about his clinical trial, if he hadn’t been at one of the participating hospitals. Smart social media engagement could enable pharma to make patients aware of clinical trials when and where they are looking for them. Many innovative social media platforms exist to facilitate the search for clinical trials via social media. Trial X for example matches trials to your condition, gender, age and condition…and even lets you tweet your request!
Pharma needs patients in their clinical trials to bring safe, new medicines to market quickly. Patients need safe, new medicines quickly to survive. Clinical trials should thus be THE opportunity to collaborate for a cure. Yet often, they are perceived by patients as yet another opportunity to turn them into guinea pigs. Pharma has to make clinical trial participation its problem and crusade. The Anderson center has done so very impressively using social media at its best: KOL videos explain patients how clinical trials work and are skillfully supported with a facebook page, twitter account as well as detailed information about every trial ongoing in the center.
Finally, as I pointed out in this post for Amy Tenderich‘s diabetesmine, I believe that pharma should look towards social media to involve patients along all stages of its trial, ready to gather and adapt the clinical protocol to volunteers’ feedback. Sort of a soft version of co-creation. Many great social media communities exist, like patientslikeme or Inspire, that could host your own trial community and mine the data patients provide you with. Find the one that your patient community is most comfortable with and collaborate!
My recommendations to pharma:
- Know what is being said about your clinical trial online. Know what patients find when they for clinical trials in their disease: You would be amazed what they find or rather NOT find about your clinical trial online!
- Convince patients of the value of your clinical trial: Why is this trial an important advancement for patients?
- Make sure all information you CAN communication about your trial is always up to date on the main clinical trials databases and patient sites. Give frequent status updates.
- Most of your clinical trial centers are not like MD Anderson. Help them get there! Teach and enable them to use social media efficiently to interact with patients in clinical trials.
- Manage rejections! Yup, you read this one correctly. Try to fill in a clinical trial screening questionnaire for a stage 4 cancer on a pharma site and purposefully do not meet the inclusion criteria. You will get a cold standard message like: “Thanks, but you do not fit the criteria. We keep you on file.” Just imagine for a second how the stage 4 cancer patient that had set his or her hopes on this trial will feel reading this message! This is like my BA associate telling me I won’t get on the flight, but it is not her problem. The screening process is a critical moment of truth for clinical trials. Social media can enable interactions with the patient during the screening and help us HUMANIZE this important process.
These are just some moments in which social media can become a critical component to improve pharma’s patient services around clinical trials. Each one of the e-patient testimonies in the mural above (check out Regina’s complete list of their books here) teaches us where and how health care broke down. Each one of them merits to be studied in order to extract the moments-of-truth we could address with the help of social media.
Now, if you continued to read this post for so long, you must really want to know whether I made my flight in the end. And the answer is: Yes! I did embark and was able to enjoy a much needed and fantastic vacation in NYC…and BA had nothing to do with it! I explained my predicament to the nice EasyJet employee across the hall, who immediately let me access his terminal and solve the issue. For some reason, he considered my entire travel experience whether it was with his company or not HIS PROBLEM.
From now on call me e-traveler Silja: empowered, engaged, equipped, enabled and EasyJet-loving!