A new way to think about consumer engagement in healthcare

Let's take it as a given that healthcare companies have expressed a desire to focus on patient engagement.

Let's take it as a given that healthcare companies have expressed a desire to focus on patient engagement. A study that McKinsey & Company published less than two years ago asked 1,000 CEOs and COOs to rank their top five initiatives over the next five years. Ninety percent ranked patient experience management as either their first or second priority.

With access to a wealth of information from a wide range of sources, patients are more empowered today than ever before. This matters to the C-Suite – beyond traditional marketing and public relations – as individual patients and patient advocates have been able to change markets because of what they say and think about specific companies.

The challenge for companies was also made clear in that same McKinsey study, with the punch line being that the respondents did not know who in their organization “owned” the patient.

Clearly, for a company to develop a leadership role around the patient, it must be one that goes beyond disease states or brands. It has to be an enduring effort, one that shows that the patient is front and center for a company. It must be a strong demonstration of the company's desire to begin an ongoing dialogue with patients, and its support of valuable and sustainable programs that patients come to rely on that will not dissolve away like yesterday's marketing campaign.

A recent article in Pharmaceutical Executive, “Time to Appoint a ‘Chief Patient Officer” by Sarah Krug from February 1, 2012, sketched out one approach that would be a good first step in this direction. Krüg proposes the development of a chief patient officer, a C-suite-level executive whose responsibility would be “to understand and oversee the ways in which the company is perceived by and relates to its single largest key audience: the patient. The CPO would also help to redefine and restructure corporate drug development and commercialization strategies in ways that would offer demonstrable value to patients.”

While I think that the chief patient officer is a good start, for companies who truly want to show their commitment to patients, I'd take it a step further and create a “P-suite” to ensure that a patient-centric approach is pulled through all the company's major activities. The P-suite – the CPO, a patient advisory board, and internal ambassadors – would work in tandem with existing executives.

Communications would be a hand-in-glove partner with the P-suite. Internal communications – using all the channels available – would bring the patient commitment and experience to every employee. From an external perspective, P-suite perspectives can be driven out through existing activities – corporate citizenship and annual reports, health conferences, and business conferences – as well as specially developed efforts related to product promotion, online efforts, and other communications.

There's no doubt a P-suite would be a significant investment for a company, but it's an investment well worth it to demonstrate a commitment to patients. It would show how patients are truly valued and create new and deeper loyalties with the stakeholders who surround them.

Wendy Lund is CEO of GCI Health.

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