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S4 #8: The Patient Voice: The Driving Force Behind Your Healthcare Marketing

08-The Patient Voice
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08-The Patient Voice

Let’s talk about patients, the patient voice, and what they need to hear from us. The inspiration for this article came after sitting down and speaking with a healthcare entrepreneur—someone who has a chronic illness that spurred her to start her own organization. She wanted to provide a seamless way for companies and innovators to connect with patients across all therapeutic areas and conditions. It’s a platform to foster that direct link, and it’s called Savvy.

The premise goes like this: “Hey, we’re looking for this particular type of patient. Maybe we should do some interviews or run some content by them.” Savvy finds those patients and then—voila—the two sides are connected. After that, it’s easy for those professionals to get the quick feedback they need from the right patient at the right time.

We love this, because “right person, right time” is one of the central ideas of inbound marketing, and we’re all about that here at Uhuru.

Savvy is powerful because patients often feel like they don’t have a voice. They have a condition they’ve lived with their whole lives and they have the knowledge of how to deal with it. With Savvy, they can share their story with the rest of the world and help others in similar situations.

Let’s talk more about this concept of the patient voice, and why it’s so important for all types of healthcare organizations to listen wholeheartedly—and then to act on what they learn.

Putting People First

Let’s start with something the expert we referenced, Jen Horonjeff, experienced with her incredible platform. The Savvy team tried using emojis to make a feature of the service more fun. When Lupus patients saw it—a disease which predominantly affects African-American and Latinx communities—they highlighted some issues with the imagery in the headlines.

The community took offense to it, and although the marketers were well-meaning, it didn’t matter. We always need to build around our audience. It’s absolutely imperative.

When they asked patients about it, they got helpful feedback, which allowed them to make the necessary changes and adapt the campaign before they rolled it out publicly.

This concept isn’t exclusive to healthcare brands. Some might remember a certain Pepsi ad that made the audience go, “Are you kidding me?” Instead of boosting their reputation, they dealt with the fallout for months.

Since healthcare is so incredibly personal, we have to be even more sensitive. The language and tone you use to talk to people with serious conditions can make or break your business.

Less experienced marketers behind business-to-business efforts don’t always grasp this while they’re frantically trying to please all stakeholders—we must remember that the end user is the patient, no matter what. Some might say, “Well, we don’t actually market to patients. They’re not the ones paying for our products. We’re going after the providers.”

To these individuals, we ask: “How do you know what’s important?” Without input from the user, you have no measure of success. And by only talking to providers, you only have half of the story. Just as the Savvy team learned a valuable lesson from their audience, patients will have valuable lessons to give you about what works and (more often) what doesn’t.

Shifts in Treatment Models

Patient-centered care has moved to the forefront as healthcare shifts to a value-based reimbursement model and insurance companies pivot. Patients are payers more often than ever, so a focus on patients is even more valuable than it was before. And as that concept gets more popular, many in the industry have been calling themselves patient-centered … without doing much to show it.

Healthcare providers need to prove they care about patients and that they’re working to make real changes for the patient. The challenge is getting buy-in from upper management and other stakeholders, so there’s often tension between those who want to do it and those who have the power to make it happen. Many healthcare professionals want to take this improved approach, but there’s still some friction because of the effort it takes to get others on board.

The good news is, there is a way for those champions of patient-centered care to get buy-in. It may be an uphill battle, but talking about the value of the patient voice and patient insights in a way that the management team understands can lead to more support. This will take some political wrangling (and a whole lot of patience), but it is possible to convince management that patient-centered care is the path forward.

A good way to do this is by getting a small win so managers can see the change was worth it. Then do it over and over again, scaling up as you go. It might start as a small project. For example, getting a couple of patient quotes regarding their honest perspective—whether it’s on copy and content or some unmet need—and acting on it can show management a measurable improvement in patient satisfaction.

Listening coupled with action is what gets results.

You can then bring that case study to an industry client or sponsor of the project and prove its worth. It shows that the marketer already has a great connection with the patient population they want to reach—the population they care about.

Doing this before anyone gets to the creative development phase will churn out fantastic outcomes for your healthcare organization in the long run.

What Patients Need to See

Not only does focusing your creative and messaging around the patient voice give them what they want, but it also helps them achieve the outcomes they’re looking for. Doing this will create patient ambassadors who will increase your brand awareness organically. Patients often have a fair amount of influence in their communities.

Testimonials about a patient’s experience with a certain treatment or provider are invaluable on a site or in a campaign. You should create as much authenticity around your brand as possible to say, “Not only do we care about patients, we’re putting them front and center by highlighting their stories.”

More and more patients say the biggest thing helping them through their struggle is hearing other patients’ first-hand accounts. Gather social proof if you don’t already have it. Many people use Facebook groups to have active dialogues, essentially making them virtual support groups. Keeping an eye on these groups can help you make more sensitive and relevant content—it’s dangerous to go in blind.

How to Utilize the Patient Voice Better

Language is crucial. You have to learn how your patients talk about their conditions. The next time you put out content, make sure you use the language of the patient group. Try to find people to sit down with—virtually is fine—who are representing underserved communities that haven’t always been included in the innovation, commercialization, or product launch processes.

Create and distribute surveys to gain critical insights.

Start with one project. Get patient feedback here and there, learn from it, and do it again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. A common mistake is not allocating the budget to do this. Know that making these changes will take resources—but it’ll be worth it.

If you need to convince a boss or other stakeholders, it can sometimes be tricky. There may not be immediate proof of return on investment to slap onto these efforts—but you can show them better engagement metrics once you dial into the patient voice and find a project that resonates.

You’re also building brand awareness, authenticity, and trust from the beginning. Plus, investors love to see a good product-market fit. You can do A/B testing with your language and copy, too—then compare and contrast the new and old versions. Standardize your iteration process to get a feedback loop with the community.

Never Underestimate the Patient Voice

Patient voice is of the utmost importance. It’s the secret sauce missing from the conversation when organizations rack their brains for ways to improve, frustrated that they’ve only moved laterally—not forward.

It comes down to understanding the needs of real human beings. The core principle isn’t complicated—most people will tell you what they need if you simply ask. And asking will help you reach those patients so you can keep doing vital work.

If you don’t consult the patient voice, how will you solve problems? The truth is, without this critical step, you can never really be sure if you’re on the right track.

As healthcare professionals, you always want to know, deep down in your soul, that you are helping someone and making a difference. That’s why you went into this field in the first place, right? Listening to the patient voice is the key to better outcomes, better healthcare, and a better relationship with the people who need you most.

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