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Engagement planning

The rise of the patient decision maker 

25 Mar 2024 | By Patient Engagement Team
There has been a significant shift regarding treatment decision making with patients having a far stronger voice than before, informed and advocating for themselves, they are attending appointments armed with a wealth of information. Here we explore the rise of the patient decision maker.

Historically, doctors have been the primary decision makers when it came to diagnosing, treating and prescribing. And that is absolutely correct – they are the experts, they have the education and experience. 

We’ve all seen the quote: ‘Don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree.’ 

That said, patients have become more empowered and involved in making their own health choices. They go to Google first, not their doctor, they seek out answers and even attend appointments armed with suggestions more than questions. 

But what does this mean for pharma companies and compliance? And what’s been driving the rise of the patient as the key decision maker in their own care? 

1. Access to health information 

The internet provides unlimited access to information about diseases, drugs, and treatments from NHS resources and beyond.  

Patients research their conditions and potential medications more thoroughly before consulting their GP. This levels the playing field and enables them to have meaningful discussions with doctors about options. 

2. DTC advertising 

While direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs is prohibited in the UK, disease awareness campaigns are allowed. These campaigns can compliantly increase awareness of medical conditions which can lead patients to seek advice from their doctors. Although some may be risk-averse to disease awareness campaigns, they can be done compliantly and to very good effect.  

Our recent public facing disease awareness campaign focused on symptom understanding, lifestyle changes and when to be concerned. Compliant and well received, it highlighted how these campaigns can be completed well – and medical were involved from the start to ensure compliance.  

Want to know more about the connect between medical and commercial, read our Insight Why medical and commercial strategy should be aligned – but not identical

3. Shared decision making 

The patient-clinician relationship has become more collaborative in the UK. Rather than dictating treatments, GPs have open dialogue about goals, preferences and options. The ideal pathway involves joint decision making between doctors and patients, with patient outcomes and wellbeing considered critical. 

If you’re interested in improving the patient pathway, take a look at our article Improving the patient treatment pathway – review and redesign

4. Rise of patient communities and groups 

The power of the internet has enabled people to form online communities to share information and emotional support. Whether through Facebook groups or patient advocacy or support groups, connecting with peers reinforces people’s role as an empowered consumer and decision maker when it comes to their own health.   

When our Studio launched the public facing Rock My Menopause campaign it was hugely successful in building a Facebook community of women looking for support. 

5. Consumerist culture 

Patients are savvy consumers who evaluate their health options the way they would any other product or service. Whether that’s choosing the hospital in which to have their treatment, or researching and suggesting treatment options to their clinician, their role as consumers can be powerfully applied to their health. 

Is there a role for pharma? 

So, where does this leave pharma? Well, just putting drug ads in medical journals no longer cuts it. You need to build out a strategy that educates and informs HCPs, includes patient resources and even consider compliant public awareness campaigns. Ensure the patient voice is always considered whilst acting compliantly. 

Provide information across channels to educate and assist patients in the decision-making process. Working compliantly with patient advocacy or support groups can bring the patient voice to the fore, and gathering, and acknowledging the experience of patients will drive better outcomes for all. 

The evolution of the patient’s role will only accelerate. Companies that embrace this change, and pay more than lip service to the patient, have the greatest chance of success.