February 9, 2021

Q&A Series: How can I get better results from virtual patient engagement?

Patient-centricity is more than a trend – it’s imperative for life science companies. Here’s how to do it successfully online.

Q: My team is prioritizing patient engagement for many of our projects. What steps can I take to ensure I'm effectively engaging patients?

A: We know that patient-centricity is integral to the advancement of life science companies. Involving patients, understanding their perspectives, and implementing their feedback is necessary for developing therapeutics that will reach the intended populations and have the maximum impact. And HCPs may be more willing to work with and prescribe therapeutics from life science companies they perceive to be more patient-centric.

A 2019 study reported that only a third of patients interact with a pharmaceutical company on a regular basis. Virtually meeting and interacting with patients eliminates logistical challenges faced with in-person meetings and lets you connect with patients more frequently. Here’s how to successfully engage patients in virtual settings.

Prepare patients for virtual, asynchronous communication

Virtual patient engagement is more successful when it’s asynchronous, or over-time. This means you’ll ask patients to provide feedback over a period of days or weeks, at their own convenience, and from any connected device. Allowing patients to answer questions and provide insight at a comfortable pace for them – with less pressure and no travel – improves engagement.

Remember that virtual meetings may still be relatively novel to certain patient demographics, and you may face low engagement levels if patients have to figure out how the virtual platform works or what the sequence of events is while the meeting is taking place. Prepare patients on how to use the virtual engagement platform ahead of time. For instance, our platform is designed to be intuitive to use, but it's always helpful for participants to get some exposure before a session begins.

Additionally, tell patients what to expect in an online session and define the objectives clearly. What level of participation will be expected of them? Who will they be required to interact with? What are you hoping to achieve? These are all questions patients should have the answers to beforehand.

Be systematic in your question selection process

When choosing questions to ask patients – especially during sessions that do not involve audio or video communication – you shouldn't merely default to those that would be suitable for in-person interactions. Virtual meetings might initially seem sterile to participants than in-person meetings, but you can foster warmth.

Ask a combination of qualitative and quantitative questions, framed thoughtfully and considerately. Use open-ended questions to spark group engagement between patients themselves and with the moderators. And If available, support questions with visual collateral and documents that can help patients give more detailed answers.

Offer multiple ways to provide input

Aside from giving input by answering questions directly, patients should have other channels to contribute to the conversation during the entire virtual engagement process. One way to do this is to offer a resource to read and react to, in a format where patients can take some control and add comments or suggestions. Within3's document annotation features let participants provide input on patient-facing materials and resources, and provides tools that moderators can use to promote and encourage patients to add to ongoing discussions.

Empower and support in a community setting

A Boston Consulting Group survey of about 3,200 patients found that patient empowerment via information and services is among the top expectations patients have of life science companies.

In addition to engaging patients one-on-one or in small groups for over-time sessions, you can also establish online communities and resource centers where patients can access support material. This could be educational material with insights to inform patient decision-making processes around treatment options, or information about upcoming clinical trials. The material could also provide emotional and motivational support for patients by focusing on topics like dealing with a new diagnosis and coping with chronic conditions.

To discover more tactics to effectively engage patients, download our white paper, Best Practices in Over-Time Virtual Patient Engagement.