Is patient-centricity falling at the last hurdle?

Posted on Jun 22, 2017


Comms & campaigns

Two-thirds of people don’t trust evidence from medical research.

This is the stark warning in a new study by The Academy of Medical Sciences, which reveals that when it comes to the decision to take or refuse a medicine, only one-third of people trust evidence derived from medical research, while 65% trust the experiences of friends or family members.

Is this a symptom of the ultimate lack of patient-centricity?

Patient confidence

Pharma products can now be designed with the patient in mind; we excel at marketing to and educating healthcare professionals on the benefits, risks and lifestyle impact of everything they prescribe; but once that prescription is written, the patient is largely on their own.

They arrive home with their box containing their medicine and a patient information leaflet. They open it up to see what this new drug will do to their bodies, and what are they faced with? Not a long list of potential benefits and statistics about how many patients have already seen significant improvements in their symptoms from taking this medicine. Instead, they find a hard to read, arguably impossible to interpret, list of risks and warnings and instructions of what not to do.

The patient information leaflet is, of course, heavily regulated for legal reasons, but the outcome is a document so potentially daunting that many will not even read it until there is a problem, while others see the length of the list of potential side effects and decide there and then not to embark on the treatment course. 

No wonder then, that up to 75% of patients don’t take their medicine as prescribed. Evidence from a recently published study suggests that negative beliefs about medicines are more significantly associated with adherence than external barriers to getting medicines. And of course, poor compliance will not only diminish the effectiveness of medicines, but can also, somewhat ironically, increase the rate of adverse events. An ill-informed patient who is half-hearted about taking their medicine through indecisiveness or fear is potentially more likely to have a bad experience than if they committed fully to their treatment plan. But with twice as many study participants stating they would trust the experience of friends and family members than evidence from medical research, how can the medical profession help patients feel confident in their treatment?

"With twice as many study participants stating they would trust the experience of friends and family members than evidence from medical research, how can the medical profession help patients feel confident in their treatment?"

Path to improvement

Based on the findings of the study, the Academy of Medical Sciences is calling for a number of improvements in the way scientific evidence is communicated:

  • Scientific evidence to be presented in a clear, accessible and usable way
  • Patient information leaflets to be improved to include a balanced and easily understandable appraisal of medicines
  • NHS Choices to be developed as a ‘go-to’ repository of clear, accurate, up-to-date and evidence-based information
  • Traffic-light system for press releases indicating how likely the research is to improve clinical practice in the near future and the robustness of the research
  • Codes of practice to be developed to enable all parties involved in the generation and communication of evidence to convey accessible, accurate and balanced information to the public

But these things will all take time to implement, if they happen at all. 

So what can be done to bridge this gap in the meantime? 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Sir John Tooke, who led the study, noted the lack of balance in patient information leaflets between the presentation of benefits versus risks, and acknowledged the difficulty in understanding and lack of relevance of statistics associated with medical evidence. Speaking of ways to complement patient information leaflets, he spoke of the benefits of infographics and quotes from patients, and also noted that scientific information synthesised in ways that make it accessible would be of benefit not only to patients, but also to some health professionals. 

Three things medical communicators can start doing now to maintain patient-centricity once the consultation is over:

  • Create patient-friendly materials that prescribers can use to show patients the benefits of their medication and put the risks in context
  • Use infographics to convey ‘dry’ information such as statistics in an intelligible and tangible way
  • Keep the patient in mind in all of your prescriber-focused materials, to give healthcare professionals the information they need to have meaningful, empathetic conversations with patients

Creating marketing and educational materials that reflect the patient experience has always been good practice across medcomms, and these new findings underpin why patient-centricity that continues once the patient leaves the consulting room is essential, not just ‘nice to have’. Clear, ongoing communications with patients needs to be a new priority in healthcare.

Download: Why pharma needs an emotional reboot

Patient centricity revisited