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Best Practices in Over-Time Virtual Patient Engagement

Best Practices in Over-Time Virtual Patient Engagement


Just 40% of healthcare professionals say they are very aware of patient services, proving a gap exists between professionals and patients. For patients to feel heard, pharma companies should continue prioritizing a patient-centric approach; one that involves patients in a meaningful way throughout the drug development lifecycle.  In a new era of virtual engagement, ensuring that best practices are followed by HCPs and pharma companies is essential to placing patients at the heart of virtual engagement strategies.
Editor: Peter Newton Last Updated: 03-Aug-2021

Over the past year, millions of people across the globe looked to pharmaceutical companies for hope in the form of a vaccine. The coronavirus pandemic put the life sciences sector in the spotlight more so than ever before as patients continued to make their needs known and said, “we want to be heard.”

While the industry is making progress in energizing its approach to patient engagement, further improvements can still be made. According to Accenture, just 40% of healthcare professionals say they are very aware of patient services, proving a gap exists between professionals and patients. 

Furthermore, a 2019 study revealed only 47% of patients felt pharmaceutical companies understood their emotional, financial, and lifestyle needs related to their condition, while only a third reported being able to interact with a pharmaceutical company on a regular basis. 

For patients to feel heard, pharma companies should continue prioritizing a patient-centric approach; one that involves patients in a meaningful way throughout the drug development lifecycle. 

Creating a patient-centric philosophy 

There are various roadblocks that can make it difficult for internal teams to meet patients face-to-face; travel, time expense to name a few. In addition, patients may feel nervous about being “interviewed” and can have concerns about confidentiality, sometimes preferring to be anonymous.

The events of 2020 forced businesses worldwide to embrace a new way of working, using digital tools and tech to help carry out the day-to-day. In the pharmaceuticals space, as more companies and patients become “digital natives,” engaging with patients virtually is becoming more commonplace. 

Beyond just “meeting online,” both patients and pharmaceutical teams can benefit from over-time, asynchronous communication – in other words, a continuous meeting held over a period of days or weeks. Patients can participate whenever it is convenient, from any device, and at a pace that is comfortable for them.  

What is best practice in over-time virtual patient engagement? 

As physical interaction remains restricted for many, and with 87% of HCPs (healthcare professionals) wanting to adopt either an all virtual or hybrid model for patient interaction in a post-pandemic world, it’s important that companies understand the foundations of best practice virtual engagement.

Engaging with patients in a way that’s convenient and comfortable for them will enable companies to gain stronger, richer insights, beneficial to medical affairs, clinical research & development, and commercial & marketing teams alike. 


  • Choosing the right participants 


Teams need to ensure that they are engaging with the right cohort of patients. Engaging virtually may enable more equitable participation by not excluding those who may not be able to travel or who have support needs, meet specific criteria and are able to participate within the allotted time frame. It’s important to ensure that goals, objectives and safeguards or confidentiality are communicated clearly to ensure all participants understand what to expect during the session.

There will be varying levels of digital savviness among patients, so it is important to offer support and guidance where appropriate. Patient group representatives can help.


  • Mindful moderation 


Enlisting the appropriate moderators for each session will help patients feel trusted and listened to, thereby enabling teams to generate richer, more representative insights.

While it’s important to remain neutral, moderators should also be conscious and empathetic. They should also consider their language, how they encourage discussion and invite feedback, and provide positive reinforcement throughout, Remember, you’re dealing with people, so it’s important to stay human. 


  • The importance of anonymity 


Protecting the identity of patients during a session can be necessary to ensure compliance. Pharmaceutical teams can offer anonymity by creating a naming convention, such as initials or generic names like “Patient 3” or “John S.” Moderator identities can also be hidden – preferably using a different naming convention to avoid confusion. 

Names and logos of pharmaceutical companies can also be hidden by using an unbranded space when desired. If there is a webcast component to the session, we recommend using a webinar option that does not enable members to see one another. 


  • Conscious confidentiality 


Pharmaceutical teams can take advantage of several opportunities to reassure patients of their commitment to confidentiality. Orientation training or any contact prior to the meeting is a suitable time to do this whilst at the same time reminding participants not to divulge identifying information, names, or other personal information. 


  • Ask the right questions to get the right insights


To help produce the richest, most valuable insights, teams should develop their questions with their participants and key objectives in front of mind. Once the brief is properly understood, and you have your questions in place, it’s a case of deciding how best to structure the discussion. 

Generating rich discussion, thus eliciting valuable insights, is best facilitated by open-ended questions rather than those presented in a survey style.. Patients can be asked both private and open group discussion questions, and may benefit from the experience of hearing from others and reflecting before giving their insights.

The life sciences industry is evolving virtual engagement at an accelerated rate. As we continue to push boundaries in a bid for a healthy world it is important that companies adopt new approaches towards why they exist: to help patients. The future of pharma lies in a patient-centric philosophy through virtual engagement. 

This byline is by Peter Newton, Senior Director, Client Relationships Lead, Within3.