Humanizing The Brand Experience: Five Ways to Optimize Your Patient-Centric Strategy with Social Media

Today, over 65% of American adults are using social media sites, and adoption from seniors (65 and older) has grown from 0% in 2006 to 35% in 2015. This digital transcendence has had profound implications for healthcare and medicine, which is now the leading factor that is enabling the entire healthcare ecosystem to pivot around the patient-centric model.

The one-size-fits-all wonder drug and the physician-voice-driven model, as we know it, is rapidly undergoing a paradigm shift towards advanced biologics (i.e., cell-based immunotherapies) and outcomes medicine based on patient-centered participation.  Much of this shift is driven by rapid advances of technology and exponential growth in Internet use.

Rise of The E-Patient

Pew Research Center’s survey1 revealed more than 72% of Internet users looked for health information, and 77% of those online health seekers began their session using a search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo.  These findings do not necessarily mean that patients are replacing consulting their health issues with a physician, but are adding the Internet as a medium to be more educated and informed.

In fact, the Inspire Inaugural Annual Survey2 of 13,000+ patients found that 55% of the patients are well prepared for their doctor’s appointment, 52% of the time patients are largely responsible for initiating new treatment discussions (89% ask about other treatment options at least once a year), and when it comes to making the treatment decision, about 70% of patients said it was a collaborative effort with their physicians.  While some other data have suggested growth impediments in the area of mobile technologies (older age group) and financial barriers, the trend is clear, patients are actively participating in their medical care journey via electronic communication tools.  They are researching molecular diagnostics of diseases, exploring treatment options, and sharing irrecoverable and unequivocal sentiments with others like them.

Many patients want information from multiple sources–even from industry.

When an Inspire member with rheumatoid arthritis was asked about her thoughts on DTC, she replied:

“I do not mind if they advertise because I think it is better to know what all is available and know the possible side effects.”

Every day stories are being shared that feature the various dimensions of the “E” from the phrase “E-patient” – Empowered, equipped, engaged, enabled, emancipated, equal, and experts. With the patient now being in the center, marketers now must be able to comprehend the vast network of digital information that contains what patients are thinking, feeling, saying, and discussing.

Patient-Centric Social Media for Pharmaceutical Marketing

Social media can be largely defined as a collective of web-based applications or websites that allow people to engage with one another through the creation and exchange of contents, which range from text, photos, videos, and other types of User-Generated Content (UGC).

Aside from the mainstream sites like Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of other interest-specific social media sites, such as Yelp, Vine, or Periscope, are being used.  This exponential growth and adoption of social media as a daily routine has led to a data explosion: every 2 days we are generating more data than all the data combined up until 2003.  The data never sleeps, and for every minute, there are 300 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube, 77,160 hours of videos streamed on Netflix, 347,222 tweets, and more than 4 million Facebook posts.

Most patients begin their journey by inputting their query into a search engine, and throughout the journey they are most likely to return to the search engine and ask other questions. All of the main stream social media sites are not patient-based, and most of the patients do not want to engage as a patient on these networks. Patients want to connect with others who understands what they are going through and can relate to their experiences. Over the last decade, several patient-based social networks that provide such environment have emerged and are growing rapidly, with Inspire as the nation’s largest (over 900,000 members at the time of this publication, and you can see what patients are querying about on this free real-time social listening tool – Many pharma brands have begun partnering with companies like Inspire to better understand the patient experience and provide intelligence to the brand, market research, digital, and commercial team. Here are the top five consumer-based tools that marketer can leverage from patient-centric social media sites (by way of targeted surveys or UGC analysis) to build a humanized, patient-centric brand strategy:

1.  Persona Development:

These are fictional representations of the patient customer archetypes that provides a model point-of-reference of who they are, what they do, and what motivates or causes them to engage with your brand (or not to). Not only this is critical to brand planning, but it can be synthesized into documents that can shared across the organization such as sales, marketing, or customer service. As discussed earlier, many patient archetypes are becoming empowered and are actively seeking for information. This is especially true for patients who are seriously ill, as referenced by an Inspire member below when prompted about DTC ads, the person responded:

“I would support and provide any information to any drug company able to provide me with any information on any new drug that could help me with my quality of life. Which at this point is not much of a life.”

2. Patient Journey and Content Mapping

Patient experience map like this one3 can offer tremendous insights to developing the right content at the right time point for the right patient. Different challenges and pain points arise throughout the patient’s lifecycle (and for many there’s no cure or high reoccurrences). For instance, when an Inspire member was asked about the practicality of talking to your doctor about a potential drug, she shared:

“what good is it for me to suggest a drug to my doctor, if he knows nothing about it?”

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Inspire offers a trusted community to patients and caregivers.  Our goal with this blog, this website and our content is to provide the life science industry access to the true, authentic patient voice.  In so doing, we support faithful operationalization of patient-centricity.  Take a look at our case studies, eBooks and news outlet coverage.


1 Perrin, A. & Duggan, M. American’s Internet access 2000-2015

2 Lowe, B. & Taylor, D. Insights from engaged patients.

3 Hall LK, Kunz BF, Davis EV, Dawson RI, Powers RS. The Cancer Experience Map: An Approach to Including the Patient Voice in Supportive Care Solutions. J Med Internet Res 2015;17(5):e132.