Stepping into Your Customers’ Shoes

File under: Mobile Health, Patient Engagement, Relationship Marketing

Physicians are justifiably skeptical when a drug rep walks in the door. The relationship is purely transactional. The rep wants the doc to commit to writing more of whatever the rep is selling. The doctor is late for her next appointment.

There is an alternative however. It requires a great deal of patience and a willingness to take the long view, something not every sales organization is ready to do. There is the potential to create a competitive advantage in the market by stepping away from the hard sell long enough to determine, “What are the challenges facing this practice right now and how can we solve them?”

This attempt at true understanding is a great deal more effective than just trying to persuade the overworked doc to write more of your drugs. Although it may take a few months to persuade a physician of the sincerity of this question, it has the potential for changing the nature of the relationship.

Pharma needs to move beyond simple product promotion and much more towards long-term relationship building and thought leadership recognition. Brands need to position themselves as partners with physicians, not just as the manufacturer. Technology can be an enabler to help brand teams do just that.

Using Technology to Help Physicians Quickly and Effectively Diagnose a Patient

Most doctors are extremely busy. One of their biggest challenges is getting to a diagnosis as quickly as possible. Often they have only fifteen minutes with each patient…

In order to quickly and thoroughly diagnose a patient, physicians are trained to ask a set of really good questions. The goal is to document and analyze any important data points, experiences and symptoms since the last patient visit that might reveal important clinical patterns. Unfortunately, most patients are bad at self-reporting, and often the important details are not captured in the allotted time.

One solution that is beginning to emerge is the use of symptom tracking tools, particularly mobile-enabled tools (such as iPhone apps) that allow patients to capture their symptoms in real time. These tools provide both patients and physicians with a summary of symptoms, triggers, effects, attempted homebrew therapies – all of the kinds of things that a physician would want to capture if they were monitoring that patient from afar.

The challenge of diagnosing migraines

Diagnosing migraine headaches illustrates the disconnect between a patient’s ability to self-report salient symptom data and a physician’s ability to effectively diagnosis. Migraines can overwhelm the patient’s ability to concentrate and by the time they can get an appointment with their doctor, many of the important details about the onset of the migraine are lost. At that point there are few reliable observational clues on which the physician can base pattern recognition.

This is a clear case where technology can help. We created an iPhone app that an individual can launch when they feel a migraine coming on. You pick up your iPhone and launch the app, capturing the time of day and location. Then the app offers several simple data capture tools. It shows you the front and back of a head, and you tap on the location of the pain. Is it between the eyes? Is it at the top of the head? Is it around the jaw? Is it behind the back of your head?

Then you register a severity index. You indicate whether it’s preventing you from going to work or play. There’s a list of possible triggers: Lack of sleep? Alcohol? Emotions? Loud noise or bright lights? Then, what are your feelings? Do you have a sense of a blinding aura? Pinpoint pain? Nausea?

Did you take Advil for it? Did you take a prescription drug for it? How long did it last?

You’re capturing everything around the experience and you’re capturing it in the moment.

All of this information gets stored in a tiny database. If you experience multiple migraines before you can get in to see your doctor, that data is captured and stored, too. The application begins to reveal common patterns such as triggers or emotions. You can email the data to your physician just prior to your appointment and now your physician can begin to develop a theory of what may cause your migraines before you even walk in the door. It streamlines the time in the office and it gives the physician a lot more confidence in her diagnosis.

These tools also give the patient a new level of self-awareness. At its most fundamental level, diagnosis is simply pattern recognition. Technology can help provide enough data to begin to notice the relevant patterns.

Writing a Prescription for an App

01_GSK_slideThis migraine app, sponsored by a pharmaceutical company willing to invest in providing physicians with a tool that will help them in their practice, is available free of charge in the iTunes store. Physicians can download it to their iPhone to demonstrate it to patients. They can even write a “prescription” for the app, which is a growing trend. The doctor can say, “I’m going to write a prescription for this medication, but what I really want you to do is go to iTunes and download this app and use it before you come back and see me again.”

Although these types of apps are often wholly funded by pharma, it’s important to note that they are non-branded, and that pharma doesn’t have access to any patient data. There is complete patient privacy and confidentiality.

The goal of this health app is to provide physicians with important information about their patients, thus enhancing the relationship that they have with their patients. And it begins to change the value proposition that the pharmaceutical rep brings into the office, offering an opportunity for savvy reps to reframe their role as partners in helping their local physicians improve their practices to serve their patients better.

By taking a simple but intentional walk in a physician’s shoes, one can find multiple ways to help. That’s more what sales and marketing ought to be doing.

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