The patient experience: now arriving at a diabetes website near you

It seems the “patient experience” is everywhere you look in pharma.

At conferences (of course). In a bevvy of blogs (not surprisingly). And on the agendas of internal planning meetings across the industry (we’ve all seen them).

With behemoths like Amazon and Apple on the hunt for healthcare customers, it’s no longer enough for pharmas to just be “digital.” Today, life sciences organizations are rightfully looking for ways to transform their digital capabilities into customer-centric offerings, with patients as True North.

Yet for all the buzz, patient experience in pharma is not well-defined. This holds true even in multichannel marketing, where you’d think we would have some consensus by now, knowing how reliant patients are on email, social, mobile, and video to learn about conditions and treatments.

DRG Digital decided to remedy the situation. At the coaxing of customers, we created the Patient Experience Index: a methodology for objectively ranking the experiences provided by prescription drug brands. Our first Patient Experience Index explores the multichannel offerings of 10 leading Type 2 diabetes treatments in the U.S. The goal was to discover how these brands are attempting to provide the content, tools, and value-added support patients say they now expect from pharma, and to identify the experience leaders in the U.S. diabetes market.

As our analysts dove into 41 consumer-facing digital assets – brand websites, social media properties, disease education hubs – the challenge became clear: How do you know what good looks like?

Ashwin Balasubramanian, manager of digital insights, DRG Digital, explained: ” In order to build an effective scoring index, it’s critical to understand the role played by each digital asset within an ecosystem, then assessing how all the content streams come together in building a holistic digital experience for the patient. The key challenge thus, is viewing content as an entity, not in silos and use that insight as a building block that plays into content across other digital platforms offered by pharma.” Our answer was to conduct a series of brainstorming sessions and dialogue as we reviewed patient assets, leading to the creation of four primary ranking criteria:

  • Content & Features – Do assets innovatively reflect key patient needs, as captured by our Cybercitizen Health® U.S. and ePharma Consumer® U.S. patient research?
  • UX – Are assets adhering to health literacy and user-centered design principles?
  • Social & Apps – Do beyond-the-site offerings use these mediums effectively to deliver the content and services patients want?
  • Spread & Effectiveness – Are assets sewn together in an effective, easy-to-navigate patient ecosystem?

During analysis, many key findings rose to the surface. Having spent 4 years running digital strategy at a patient-focused communications agency, I found these insights particularly intriguing:

  • Most Type 2 diabetes brands scored well for UX, with just one receiving a “Below Average” ranking. That’s a clear sign user experience, including health literacy, has cemented itself as a discipline among patient markers and their agency partners. Bravo, pharma. You’ve come a long way!
  • Most Type 2 diabetes brands scored poorly for Social & Apps, hampered by text-heavy content and minimal patient engagement. Predictably, we found that brands without clear social and mobile objectives struggled. These platforms are not “check the box” efforts! They require constant care and feeding, informed by the context in which social and apps are used.

One Type 2 diabetes franchise that gets it right is Novo Nordisk, which offers the unbranded ”
Get Real About Diabetes” Facebook page. The page and accompanying website are built around the diabetes journey of comedian Anthony Anderson. His brief videos and educational tips utilize health psychology and a dose of humor, encouraging patients to deal with their condition in a way physicians (and branded marketing efforts) probably can’t. Thousands of patient comments and shares confirm this experience is resonating.

  • There is significant white space for effective content, particularly on topics other than product information. Keep in mind, we studied both branded and unbranded assets, which makes this finding so surprising. We’ve learned a lot over 16+ years running Manhattan Research studies, including what content Type 2 diabetes patients want from pharma. Not all of these asks have made it into pharma’s digital ecosystem. For example, more than one-third of Type 2 diabetes patients say they would stay on a pharma website longer if there were videos of other patients, per Cybercitizen Health® U.S. 2018. Sanofi’s Lantus is one brand that’s listening, with videos of real patients talking about the product’s impact on their lives. (More Cybercitizen findings here.) I was also caught off guard by the lack of in-depth, engaging content about financial access. Close to two-thirds of U.S. patients factor in out-of-pocket costs when making Rx treatment decisions, per Cybercitizen Health® U.S. 2018. Financial access is an embedded part of the U.S. patient experience; Type 2 diabetes brands could do much more to simplify and support this piece of the journey.

There is much more work to be done, and our Patient Experience Index will continue to surface insights for pharma customers across other disease categories in the coming year. Rory Stanton, director of patient research, DRG Digital, said: ” With biosimilars continuing to enter the US Crohn’s market, the major players in the category are projecting declines in revenues and market share in the coming years. However, we know that patients say they would be willing to pay more for therapies that focus on their experience as a patient. That is why brands treating Crohn’s Disease will have to focus their efforts on providing a differentiated customer experience to stand apart from these incoming players and protect their market share. ”