How do patients learn about healthcare issues?

For decades, healthcare marketing solutions have operated from an industry-centric perspective. Prevailing knowledge on marketing tips and tricks involved aggressively pursuing patients and physicians with new information for groundbreaking products, whether they were ready to receive the information or not. As long as it was delivered, some marketers considered the strategy an overall success.

However, regulations on social media from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have changed the nature of digital advertising for healthcare companies. Restrictions on what information can be shared has driven many away from Twitter and Facebook as they claim that there is no meaningful way to connect with consumers in such a limited space. According to the Institute of health, only 31 percent of healthcare organizations have codified their social media marketing policies in writing. 

If healthcare marketing is going to take the next big step alongside similar transitions to value-based and coordinated care, it might be equally important to foster a conceptual shift in advertising solutions to include the patient perspective in more central roles going forward. As many experts have noted, identifying how patients learn about healthcare information will allow targeted and customized solutions to provide anyone with information in the forms he or she reacts to the most

Patients may not take in as much information in the doctor's office as first thought.

How do patients learn?
In a column for the New York Times, Pauline Chen, M.D., hepatobiliary surgeon at the Dumont-University of California, Los Angeles Liver Cancer Center, asked a question that many healthcare marketing solutions often fail to take into account when generating effective and engaging custom content: Just how much can a patient learn in a short amount of time, anyway?

Chen focused on patients visiting their doctors in primary care settings, a fairly tame environment as far as clinical locations go. However, one patient told Chen that he could barely remember any of the details his physician had told him about the bag of medications he now had to take.

"I felt like I was in a Charlie Brown cartoon," the man told Chen. "All I can remember the doctor saying was, 'Waw, waw-waw, waw-waw.'"

Chen explained that though many physicians have the best intentions when delivering diagnoses, discharge instructions or information on follow-up care, many patients simply feel lectured at. Advice given straight is usually advice ignored, Chen noted, and when patients feel as if they are being talked down to when the topic concerns their own conditions, they may be less likely to follow physicians' advice from the very beginning. This threatens medication adherence, study enrollment rates and a whole host of other critical processes that healthcare needs to improve as part of value-based care.

"Doctors may have good intentions when they're doling out advice," Gina French, M.D. associate professor of pediatrics at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii, told the NYT. "But we have to come up with ways of giving that advice that actually make a difference for patients."

"We have to come up with ways of giving that advice that actually make a difference for patients."

Give them what they want
Even from a superficial perspective, French's insistence that healthcare marketing solutions must cater to how best patients learn about their specific conditions. People will always react more strongly to information presented in such a way that it heightens their own engagement in the issue, and personalized, targeted educational content is the way to achieve this in healthcare.

A 2011 report from the Pew Research Internet Project found that, out of 3,001 U.S. adults, 18 percent use the Internet to search for other people with their conditions. In fact, many patients report positive interactions over meeting another person who shares their experiences with their conditions. Chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, lung conditions and heart disease all fostered genuine contact between two parties over the Internet.

But what does this say about how patients learn? If connecting with another person on their same level of familiarity with the clinical side of their health issues has such a positive effect, emulating this experience in healthcare marketing solutions can have similar results in structured treatment programs. Instead of providing a deluge of clinically accurate yet irrelevant information to a medically-naive patient, they also seek a degree of comfort and sensitivity from their partner in dialog as well. Otherwise, they may just as easily forget the information within a haze of confusion and pain.

Engaging content that adopts the patient perspective to deliver targeted information to specific subjects is much more likely to produce a long-term relationship between client and brand. It is increasingly these lifelong relationships that benefit pharmaceutical companies with loyal customers who ask their physicians for specific products, as well as new clients who have been convinced that this new drug may finally work for them.

Whatever the needs of a company's healthcare marketing strategy, emphasizing the patient perspective is key above all else. It takes a savvy marketing agency to balance engaging, personalized content with responsible medical accuracy, so choose carefully when considering a partner in your education outreach strategy.