Are We Missing the Message? A New Take on Patient Centricity for Clinical Trials

August 27, 2018

A simple idea is often the most elegant solution to a problem, which may be why we are still failing to solve the clinical research participation problem. It is not just that clinical research is complex, and getting even harder, it is that we continue to try and fix it with more silos and more “solutions”. We have even started to name our problems differently. Our current and enduring problem is “patient centricity” or the lack thereof. I am encouraged that we are adding patient advisory boards and task forces to the model, but it still has me asking: is it enough? Are we missing the message?

I love this quote by Hans Hofmann, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Patients have already told us what they need to become a more active part of the clinical research enterprise and it’s not a small group of people working with a small group of patients to streamline protocols and reduce the number of blood draws.  Patients have asked for three simple things: trust, education and communication. Simple.

Recently we published a 3-part mini-series about consumers’ perception of personalized healthcare ads. Check out the series starting with the Health is personal. Health Advertising should be too. article.

Right now, we approach clinical trial marketing by creating micro-campaigns for each individual (and sometimes a small portfolio) of studies. We usually have a study website which is not much more than brochureware, with a prescreener which amounts to a basic survey, and a set of creatives. The whole thing has a limited shelf-life and because they come and go like pop-up kiosks in the mall, limited impact.

How can we change this? It’s about going back to giving patients what they have asked for and we can do this by making content marketing a central strategy for our patient centricity efforts.  Content marketing is a proven strategy in the marketing world in just about every industry because it allows brands to listen to, and create relationships with, their consumers. I am often unsure as to why it has taken us so long to bring this practice to the clinical trial space, especially with the stakes so very high in what we are trying to accomplish: speeding cures to market.  

What IS content marketing? Too often people confuse it with native or long-form advertising, but it is so much more. Content marketing is the practice of providing useful and relevant information for the purposes of creating a relationship. This relationship is not transactional in nature- this is not a “read this, then buy me” outcome we are seeking. True content marketing is a blend of informational and educational. It seeks to meet the reader wherever they are in their journey and include the “brand messages” for consideration in context. In the case of clinical trials, the “brand” we are informing and educating about is research itself and the place of research as a care option. If we use content to educate patients about all of their treatment options and the role of clinical trials in the care continuum everyone wins.

Additionally, content marketing allows us to attack root-cause problems holding participation back like health literacy. An engaged and educated clinical trial participant is a retained participant! We can also use content marketing as an excellent communication vehicle because the headlines, images and content patients elect to interact with teaches us what patients need and expose for us where patients are in their journey.  

Most important, content marketing can allow us to embrace the power of patient storytelling to share authentic clinical trial experiences. Through the voice of the patient and the caregiver, we can start to rebuild trust and remove the stigma associated with participation. Content marketing has already shown positive impacts for the few who have elected to be early adopters, the most notable being Eli LIlly. Stop by Lilly’s Trial Guide to get an example of good content at work.

So where do you start? Over the next few weeks we will be sharing a 6-part series on the basics of content marketing for clinical trials, so make sure to subscribe to updates below.

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