Healthy Observations: The Journey To Health
There are many different types of health conditions and illnesses, and their journeys to wellness are never quite the same. But one universal commonality is that once patients understand what kind of illness they have, they move into the mind-set of wanting to know how to best treat it, deal with it, and get back to "normal" life. The long course to diagnosis is suddenly over and the patient is left with the need to expedite their road to health.
When we map out the journey that a patient goes on after they've been diagnosed -- whether it's surgery, having treatment, or even taking medicines that require a lifetime of monitoring -- one thing is very clear: these patients have been awakened. They have a whole new sense of reality and use their most recent health experience to redefine their new normal. Their daily life takes on new concerns and worries about things that were once taken for granted. They also may feel alone and disenfranchised once surgery and initial treatment are over. They face the challenge of how to reengage with their family, their workplace, and the community at large. Their new world may consist of taking multiple medications daily, possibly for the rest of their lives, which only continues to remind them of their illness.
During this time, the challenge is to ensure that patients understand the critical nature of staying compliant with their treatment. Their measurement of health now comes with a long-term medication plan attached to it. Fortunately, the support groups and online communities that are available to patients with various conditions mean that they have an immediate extension to their family, with people who have actually gone through a similar experience.
What is the role of the brand during this journey?
What is the role of a brand in engaging with a patient on product? Imagine a cardiovascular product that comes with a self-monitoring service that actively supports a patient in achieving cholesterol levels defined by their physician.
There are several platforms that connect patients to others with similar diagnoses, such as patientslikeme.com, but a support service-based platform that a product manufacturer develops must have a somewhat different flavor. The Nike+ program was launched with Apple in the summer of 2006 as a way for runners to track their progress by uploading information from the run sensor (an accelerometer with the iPod serving as receiver) to the Nike+ Web site. Nike shoe sales bumped up by 10% within the first six months of the release and about 35% of members surveyed were new to Nike footwear.
A staggering 1.2 million Nike+ runners participated in a worldwide 10K run in August 2008. Today, there are millions of runners (with or without Nike shoes) who use some form of the Nike+ program, with dozens of independent services that allow tweeting results, visualizing run data, networking with runners, and following celebrity runs for a cause. Perhaps it's a stretch that a conservative regulatory context would allow this -- or perhaps it's time for the industry to make that stretch. In any case, as has been borne out in other industries, the first-mover advantage is of the essence.
There are a few commonalities among these types of programs that might offer insight into developing service-based product bundles:
- maintaining the desired level of anonymity for the customer
- allowing the use of the service separate from the product even while offering a value-added product bundle
- connecting to a natural need of the customer (for runners -- to track progress, and for the relatively wealthy -- to give back)
Finding the appropriate balance between product and service for a pharma brand is one that will need an established purpose and transparency.
Can you measure a patient's journey to health?
Measurement is an inherent part of the journey toward health. Illness is often accompanied by one or more physiological metrics that are out of the normal range. As a patient is undergoing treatment, a primary way to measure return to health is by tracking those metrics as they return to the normal range. A patient can work with his or her physician to adjust the therapy based on how these health-related metrics change over time.
Metrics on wellness can be thought of individually or collectively, and technology plays an ever-increasing role in both cases. Individually, patients have more means than ever to quickly and automatically see how their health is improving. Just a few examples are the Wii Fit with built-in scale, the Bayer Contour USB glucose meter, and the Nike training and heart rate monitors. Pharmaceutical relationship-marketing programs come with pill reminders and online pain management diaries. These diaries have evolved from paper-based journals to secure Web pages, and now reside as apps on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones.
Collectively, healthcare companies and device manufacturers want to measure overall utilization of wellness, conversion, and adherence tools placed in the marketplace. Web analytics data can signify which patient resources are most being utilized, and which features should be improved.
It is fascinating to think of what role media can play on this journey. Imagine if one's weight loss is not progressing as rapidly as needed, or pain relief is not coming quickly enough. Could one's PDA tracker or personal monitor someday become a venue for product placement for better nutrition products, exercise equipment, or even medication? As our country debates individual Web site data privacy issues, this may be a new angle to consider.
The process to health proceeds at a pace unique to each individual. The nature of the journey depends to a great extent on a patient's outlook and their ability to participate in their treatment and stay positive. The role that a brand can play on this journey, via all types of media, is evolving at a rapid speed. And the possibilities themselves are something we can all feel positive about.