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Online Tools That Encourage Adherence

Posted by | 9:49am on Thursday, February 4, 2010

No doubt about it. Adherence is an important topic. 

A recent discussion on ePatients made me think more deeply about the impact online tools can have on adherence. The discussion focused on a comment calling attention to the patients out there who are, “not motivated to become informed, or invest the time/energy/money in using any of these tools.”

No doubt about it. Adherence is an important topic. According to Johns Hopkins, each day about 50 million Americans either forget to take a medication their doctor has prescribed or intentionally decide not to take it. Medications that are never taken do no good at all, and there’s often a high price to be paid down the line in terms of healthcare expenditures.

For pharma marketers, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. Because, as many nonprofits have discovered, the best audience is the one you already have. That is if you can get them to listen.

People with rare disorders sometimes see a more direct correlation between treatment and how they feel than patients with chronic conditions like high blood pressure, where the cause and effect relationship may be less clear to patients in terms of how they feel.  But there are still subtle and not-so-subtle adherence barriers to overcome. Here are some common causes of non-adherence for patients with rare disorders – and some suggestions for online tools that can help:

I don’t get it. Sometimes people intend to follow the treatment protocol but they aren’t exactly clear on their facts. Education can be a great help in reducing this kind of unintentional non-adherence, and online channels are a perfect way to deliver it. Information online is always available, even after you’ve misplaced that instruction sheet or brochure they handed you when you left the doctor’s office – and the detailed information you’re able to access online just might cause you to call the doctor back the next day when you realize that what you thought you heard her say wasn’t at all what she said. If you’re concerned about adherence, make sure you offer searchable and useful information online in language your audience will understand – and that you take every opportunity in print, on the phone and in person to remind patients where they can find it. If proper dosing could be an issue, consider dose administration aids, like a smart phone dosing calculator.

I forgot. Another form of unintentional non-adherence is the patient who had all the good intentions in the world but quite literally forgot to follow them. Technology can be very helpful here. Alerts sent to your mobile phone, email reminders, and newsletters that support your awareness of the benefits of the treatment can help patients get over the forgetfulness barrier.  There are also tools to help you monitor your treatment and stay organized like Novartis’s iPhone app VaxTrak.

I can’t afford it. In the world of rare disorders, where treatment costs can be high, financial factors can have a big impact on adherence. It’s important to make people aware of insurance support programs when treatment begins, but it’s also critical to make sure people stay aware of the availability of assistance in case of job or insurance changes.  Whether or not you’re aware of it, treatment costs are probably being discussed online. Make sure that information about assistance is also easily available online, via email, or through social media channels.

Why should I? Sometimes patients wonder whether the treatment is really worth the price in terms of side effects, inconvenience, discomfort, and lifestyle adjustments. Whether it’s a conscious choice or just a vague sense of unease that causes people to back away from treatment without actually confronting the choice, the result is non-adherence – or treatment that never even gets off the ground.

Peer support can be a great source of knowledge and motivation for people in this mode. Social media has an important role to play here – providing stories of people who have been there and have come out the other side; stories that help you know what to expect.  Online channels are ideally suited to delivery of these stories, because social media carries out this function in a way that’s natural and unforced. For young people, especially, the best role models are peers. If they’re celebrities like Nick Jonas, so much the better.

Do you agree that pharma needs more adherence programs? Do you have a success story to share? Tell us how you’ve used online tools to improve adherence.

(Image courtesy of Vagawi on Flickr)

About Pamela Todd

Pam’s extensive work in online intelligence, competitive analysis and audits allows her to provide clients with insights into their audiences’ needs and preferences. She puts those insights to work in creating and implementing user-centric, interactive content strategies to reach targeted patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.

View other posts from Pamela

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  • http://www.ebsolutions.com Diane Zuckerman

    I like what you say but adding to your post, I think we need better overall communications programs and adherence will follow. We need to create communications that are strategic, integrated and personalized. I believe that online is probably the only way to achieve this in an efficient and economic manner.

  • http://sireninteractive.com Pamela Todd

    Well said. I agree that adherence grows from understanding how and why – and it works best when communication is targeted to individual needs.

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