What biopharma companies can do to avoid a consumer communication crisis

Only 13% of consumers completely trust biopharma companies, and only 45% “somewhat trust” them. That means a whopping 55% to 87% have trust issues with biopharma companies. These findings come from Salesforce’s 2021 Connected Health Consumer report, which synthesized responses from 12,000 consumers about how their attitudes toward health organizations, biopharma and medtech companies have changed since 2019. This is obviously an opportunity for the industry to raise its game to better meet consumer expectations.

David Cousins, senior vice president for pharmaceutical business, Salesforce, said, “That’s an increasing challenge they’ve experienced over the last several years for a variety of reasons. I think people are generally skeptical of places where people make a lot of money, and pharma companies make a lot of money — and they’re doing a lot of good — but I think people are somewhat skeptical about that.”

On a positive note, the survey found that among people who did trust pharma companies, 82% said they think companies genuinely care about their health. Perhaps more relevant, even in the trust group, only 70% said they think pharma companies know about the patient’s communication preferences, reinforcing the concept that personalized communication should be a top priority for biopharma companies.

Cousins added, “One of the challenges is that there’s always been an intermediary between the pharma companies and the patients. This became particularly relevant after COVID-19, where so many people were finding new ways to connect with physicians, but also directly with pharma companies themselves. It created an opportunity for more direct contact, which allows companies to more clearly articulate why they are doing what they’re doing as well as how they’re doing it.”

Every challenge is also an opportunity. And these challenges offer biopharma companies an opportunity to improve communications in a way that also helps improve overall health.

What trusted health companies do differently

The top three things survey participants indicated trusted biopharma and health care companies do differently were:

• Provide personalized resources and communications.

• Care for the whole person.

• Improve communications.

Provide personalized resources and communications

The consumerization of health care is where people increasingly demand a more consumer-friendly experience, such as convenience, speed and knowledge of their needs and communication preferences.

Cousins said, “People want more individualized care, more personalized care, for two reasons. One, because the technology is available that allows for, say, specific gene therapies for individuals or treatments based on specific genomic markers. If you’re going to have personalized medicine, you’re going to need that individualized connection, because the way you’re treated is based on who you are.”

The second reason, Cousins noted, is that people want to feel as though they’re being individually cared for rather than just part of a larger group. “And when you think in terms of what that means from a technology perspective, it means making sure that you’re reaching people in the medium and in the way they want.”

And that can be via email, phone, text, portal or some other mechanism to provide personalized, seamless service that lets people feel more connected to the physicians treating them and to the pharma company they’re interacting with.

Care for the whole person

The Salesforce survey found that 71% of participants wanted their care teams to go beyond clinical factors and address their social, economic and environmental issues. That seems straightforward, but health care is increasingly complicated and fragmented. For example, if you are a cancer patient, you may be diagnosed by one physician, then sent to a series of other physicians for special care, whether it’s a radiation oncologist, a surgeon or an oncologist specializing in new immunotherapies. Ideally, the entire care journey is handled as a team and they communicate as a team, but it’s not always that way.

Cousins said, “We really need to make sure to have a more holistic view of the patient and a more complete perspective of their care that’s not limited to one physician in one kind of office. It’s really taking into account all the circumstances and making sure they’re all connected and able to communicate effectively across the various mechanisms available.”

Improve communications

All of which dovetails with the need for biopharma and all the various stakeholders in health care to improve how they communicate with consumers and one another. Some of it is very standard, per the survey:

• 91% of patients are interested in information about a medicine/treatment.

• 74% want information on how to find a doctor.

• 73% want information about financial-support programs.

• 72% want resources for caretakers helping others with health conditions.

• 71% want to know how to enroll in a patient-support program.

Cousins said, “The most critical element in this conversation is communication. And when you look at where technology comes in, Salesforce is a leader that plays a distinct role in the way information is shared that can be much more effective and seamless. If you’re able to connect with people through a variety of means, whether it’s voice, email, whatever the mechanism is that’s most important to the individual consumer, it allows for a much more consistent delivery of your message.”

Biopharma companies have a challenge in making sure their message gets to the right people — whether it’s the consumer, a provider or another partner — at the right time. It must be consistent and effective to ensure medication compliance and adherence for the consumer and seamless information sharing between care teams.

“Salesforce, as a connector, allows for increased, more effective communication,” Cousins said. “We have the analytics to better understand if the communication is working in certain places, and if it isn’t, to change and adapt. All the elements around communication, around engagement, around collaboration, internally and externally, allow for a much more seamless approach to business and a much more relevant approach to health.”

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