May 1, 2014

Customer and Patient Engagement: Embracing The Elephant in the Room


This is the first of three blogs on one of our favourite subjects: Engagement - the art of talking to somebody about a shared issue, and finding an outcome that will change their world for the better.

As specialists in healthcare PR, we are often challenged to communicate about 'the elephant in the room' - in other words, issues that are so obvious, yet so embarrassing or debilitating that they are almost impossible to discuss. The potential to break taboos is made slightly easier by the multitude of communications channels now available. However, fundamental, to any conversation with a patient or customer is a genuine insight and the promise of a value exchange in terms of outcome. Furthermore, the conversation must be conducted using a tone that is appropriate - as well as compelling. Research gives us these critical insights. But there's research, and there's research....

Options range from pure quantitative research, to focus groups, all the way through to deep ethnographic (behavioural) research. What we gain are the insights so crucial for engagement in meaningful ways.

When and why to use Research?

Different audiences and issues require different approaches, as ROAD's director of insight, Justine, explains: "We approach every project with an open mind and without prejudice. We use discussion, observation, interaction, as well as more quantifiable research methods, so we gain in-depth and insightful understanding of their specific issues and the obstacles in the way: The lives they live, the issues they face, the things they aspire to."

Befriending the elephant in the room

Much of ROAD's recent patient engagement projects have fallen into the 'difficult to discuss' category. Recent examples include sexual health, ageing, deafness and incontinence. We take nothing for granted, and we always 'keep it real'. Our patient engagement work for Pfizer's haemophilia division is a good example.

Haemophilia is a rare condition affecting only males. It is well-documented that once these boys graduate from the intense protection of their families towards independent adulthood, compliance with their medication regime falls as new behaviours and concerns take hold. Unfortunately, this has negative implications for their long-term health. Conveying health messages to young adult males can be a real challenge. Creating real life content about sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships, sport, fights, and other potentially dangerous activities - using films and streetwise digital format enabled the materials to really connect. Perhaps the most powerful platform created involved older teenagers giving advice to younger boys via podcasts.

If helping to break taboos makes for better health outcomes, it's something we're proud to do.

Look out for our next blog - Part II on consumer and patient engagement soon... In the meantime, if you'd like to find out more, please contact Ruth Delacour, Account Director at ROAD.