Scoring goals: 4 ways pharma can boost New Year's resolutions

Each year 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, while only 8 percent achieve their goals.

Why? It all boils down to a lack of planning about how we’ll handle the inevitable stress and discomfort involved in making big changes, according to Health.usnews.com.

For patients living with debilitating diseases, having the foresight and fortitude to set goals can be particularly challenging — especially when such goals must be realistic and tempered to the scope of their illness. At the same time, the process can be psychologically therapeutic by providing productive tasks on which to focus and helping patients feel more control over their circumstances.

“In psychological treatments, collaboration and consensus on treatment goals are factors that have been associated with positive outcomes,” notes research published last year in the International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy. “Studies indicate endorsing clear and valued goals is generally related to positive psychological functioning.”

That aligns well with the objectives of pharmaceutical marketers seeking to position themselves as patient partners. In a 2015 survey by biotechnology industry trade group BioNJ, 76 percent of responding biopharmaceutical companies had established or were considering patient advocacy programs and 31 percent linked such investments with high returns.

“Most companies agree patient advocacy is so effective because bringing in the patient perspective provides benefits to nearly every other function within the company,” the study advises. “It also leads to new possibilities in therapy development that are hard to provide through other avenues.”

This time of year, pharma marketers can play a part in supporting patients' New Year’s resolutions that might include better nutrition, weight loss, more regular exercise, better sleep habits, improvements to stress levels and/or better adherence to prescribed therapies. Some ways of demonstrating such support include:

1. Better education about patients’ conditions and therapies. The more patients understand the science behind their conditions and treatments, the wiser they’ll be about decisions related to their care. A recent McKinsey report discusses how patients are taking more initiative to learn about their own illnesses, and one analyst points to the resulting trend of treatment design shared between doctors and patients. Other sources indicate a need for more overall transparency and authenticity, especially regarding the funding, design and execution of clinical trials.  

2. Better overall engagement. The pharma community already recognizes the need for new and innovative ways to communicate with patients as they increasingly expect personalized approaches, the McKinsey study notes. Methods toward that end include matching channels to patient preferences, studying patient behavior online, questioning research communities, analyzing patient-physician interactions, optimizing quantitative methods to analyze trends and customizing content to findings, the study says.

3. Supportive tools. The range of supplies that could help patients meet their own goals includes journals, calendars and wearable technology. Apps that help them track adherence to regimens and overall progress can also be enormously helpful if not too commercially focused. “Apps that face the patient but are designed to solve pharma-company business needs should never exist,” advises McKinsey. “Conversely, the market desperately needs apps that focus on patient and/or provider needs — real needs with a measurable impact on health quality and cost.”

4. Facilitation of patient support groups. In a June study, 40 percent of the pharma’s patient support programs considered “very good” by program leaders included a dedicated support group. "Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating,” reports the American Psychological Association.

The McKinsey study reinforces the overall value in helping patients solve their health-related problems regardless of whether those problems are addressed as New Year’s resolutions.

“(Pharma manufacturers) must get more specific information about their customers to identify the solutions and experiences —  not just the products and drugs— those customers really need,” it advises. “They also have to understand precisely how such solutions will capture the most value. Then they will need to reconfigure their organizations to capture this value and realize their new approach to the business.”

BlogLindsey Kuhl