iStock_000029687352SmallMany industries recognized long ago the value in learning from a consumer’s key influencers: friends, family members and peers. Seeking decision-making insights, consumer goods, technology and financial services industries routinely engage a moderator to, for example, identify a focus group’s collective motives for buying, say, soap or selecting a retirement plan. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry often ignores a patient’s closest caregivers, who strongly influence treatment decisions.

Pharma spends well over a billion dollars on U.S. market research1—most of it on health-care providers (HCPs) and consumers. But economic pressures mean HCPs have less time to make thoughtful treatment decisions about individual patients’ care. This, in turn, puts a greater burden on patients,2 who are sometimes ill-equipped to make complex decisions.

Research shows that patients find it difficult to digest information in the physician’s office, especially at the time of diagnosis.3 As market researchers, we presume that a patient’s ability to recall events and information improves over time. The complete opposite is true. Bringing a caregiver’s perspective into the equation, however, changes everything.

Patients need emotional and physical support at each stage of the journey. Enter their chosen caregiver—spouse, adult child, parent or friend—who will accompany them on doctor visits, conduct desk research and make pharmacy trips. In addition, caregivers offer support and provide researchers a more accurate account of events, challenges and emotions.

Given their influence on a patient’s decision to seek care, choose a provider or manage a therapy, caregivers represent to marketers a powerful promotional channel. ZS Associates has identified several standout health-care projects that included a caregiver in the research sample.

In one instance, ZS grouped caregivers in a broad sample alongside primary-care physicians, specialists, nurses and patients to understand the complex journey of a patient with a chronic, sometimes debilitating condition. The objectives were to pinpoint the drivers and barriers each stakeholder faced in the decision-making process in order to identify and influence the ultimate adoption of the client’s new product.

A major insight into the project related to timing: How early did the caregiver help the patient and at which subsequent times did the patient interact with various HCPs? We found that patients could not accurately recall the timing and series of events, and the HCPs used inaccurate information the patient reported to them in the initial consultation. Only the caregivers were able to remember the important who, what, when, where and whys of patient and HCP interaction.

For a strategic marketer, the caregiver is becoming an important stakeholder with associated stresses and challenges in helping to manage a loved one’s disease. An estimated 36.5 million U.S. households have a caregiver, who has been in his or her role for an average of 4.6 years.4

Looking ahead, five trends will increase the importance of caregivers to provide a patient perspective:

  1. A shortage of HCPs, including primary-care physicians and nurses, relative to the aging and increasing population;
  2. The role of decision maker being increasingly handed over to patients by HCPs;
  3. An aging population that drives the need for increased caregiver involvement;
  4. A growing online community of caregivers who reach out to each other for support and information; and
  5. Increased research and interest in the area of caregivers and caregiver support.

As the health-care industry continues to understand patients as consumers, it must recognize they do not take their journey alone—the caregiver has been invited and will continue to join the ride. Shouldn’t we ask caregivers what the ride is like? Eventually, we might be equipped to offer them a map, extra legroom and snacks for their journey.

For more, read the full article here.

1. State of Industry Survey PMRG (2011).

2. PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of hospitals and health systems for the American Hospital Association www.aha.org (2008).

3. Kessels (2003) “Patients’ memory for medical information.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 96 (5) 219-222.

4. caregiving.org.

Topics: Pharmaceutical, key influencers, HCP, Patients, market research, health care Decisions, Caregivers, Health Care Providers, Jennifer Gold, Diagnosis