By Dr Pamela Walker
Digital patient journeys offer a unique lens in this new era of the empowered patient, but how complete is their picture?
There are two key themes trending in the pharma industry: ‘digital’ and patient centricity. It is therefore a no brainer that exploration into a way of bringing the two together would occur:
Enter digital patient journeys.
Patients and caregivers are becoming increasingly empowered and are taking advantage of the digital space to be better informed. The online world plays a central role in health and disease education as well as support and problem solving, statically via informative websites and dynamically through social media.
Exploring the digital patient journey allows us to uncover ‘activation triggers’ – the disease milestones or pertinent questions that trigger a patient to activate an online journey. It also enables us to identify opportunities to help support patients throughout the digital pathway. These key touchpoints could be education-related at the time of diagnosis, treatment-related in the form of FAQs or relate to on-going support needs around daily living activities. Furthermore, we can uncover the most effective formats to foster engagement with other patients in order to gain emotional and informational support, as well as how to better support caregivers. By understanding the ‘activation triggers’ and subsequent online behavioural touchpoints, this type of insight gathering and synthesis can pinpoint where greatest input is needed and how pharma can best provide digital support to address it.
As insight professionals, there are five core steps in digital patient journey exploration to keep in mind:
- Immersion in analytics and app data: This offers initial insight into current website/app usage, helping inform the research approach design. It also provides a contextual framework in which to ground the analysis of fresh data collection.
- Netnography: This analysis of online sources of conversation and digital activity amongst patients in a given disease category captures the naturally occurring hot topics: what are patients talking about, where and how? Again, this ‘status quo’ insight contributes to both the approach and analysis framework.
- Passive tracking of online activities: Synthesis of the data here is key. There will be reams of data, some relevant, some not. It is aggregated trends and correlations we are looking for here, to identify where the areas of greatest need are.
- Simulated search and support tasks: To cover the full patient journey, it may be necessary to pose hypothetical situations to patients, recording their response and resulting digital actions – where do they go? What words do they use? What do they say? How do they interact?
- Survey reflective and reported behaviour: Underpinning the above, you will need an online survey to capture the basics of what the patient reports as their digital journey and activity.
Not a Proxy for Real Life
As intuitive and straightforward as this approach may sound, it is not a proxy for offline, human perspective. Yes, this kind of research can measure behaviour in a way that qualitative interviews cannot, but without the ‘human touch’ of qualitative research we risk not understanding or misunderstanding the drivers and triggers behind a patient or caregiver’s digital journey. We believe that a digital journey alone cannot unlock the full opportunity that online support offers to pharma companies. Understanding ‘why’ patients behave as they do in a digital landscape is critical, so we aren’t hanging up our qualitative research boots just yet.
Dr Pamela Walker is a Director and the Head of Health at Incite