Engagement and behavioural science

Mark Lightowler

Exec Dir of Strategy, Science and Engagement

Digital tools and data science are driving rapid change around human engagement. Our insights are based on 10 years of developing approaches to strategy using behavioural science.

The healthcare industry is going through rapid changes at the moment, with digital tools replacing many traditional communications activities and even acting as dedicated therapies. The resulting Big Data sets are requiring companies to build dedicated data science capabilities. Another related trend is the rise of engagement specialists – people who can connect digital capabilities, data and the insight  to build better engagement across the healthcare communication spectrum.

Our understanding of human health has improved through an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and biochemistry. However, to make healthcare accessible, we have developed a view of health that follows a relatively simple, serial approach when thinking about the causes of disease and their treatment. The reality is that health exists in parallel complexity with biochemical changes being affected by the environment and patient and HCP behaviour. Many systems are interacting together to create and resolve health issues.

Understand how to make positive choices. This more holistic view of health is helping us gain a greater appreciation of how to improve health outcomes. For its part in the healthcare system, behavioural sciences are tackling big questions like how to improve medication adherence, physical activity, nutritional choices, smoking cessation, vaccination, and keeping appointments, amongst others. Health outcomes are often improved by a system’s ability to detect change early in its course. Our ability to get data from patients through ePROs and connected devices is limited by our ability to provide engagement tools that improve uptake of these methods.

A deeper look at many diseases shows that patients’ behaviour before the disease begins during diagnosis and initial treatment through maintenance and treatment changes is a contributing factor behind the success and failure of medical interventions. Sometimes this is conscious behaviour, but very often our behaviour starts beyond our conscious control. If we are to make the best of the advances in human health and disease control we must understand how we can make the choices that optimise our chances as patients of a positive outcome.

Brand strategy and behavioural change need to work together Behavioural science can also be used to assess brand strategy and tactics. Analysis of brand plans using a behavioural science lens often shows disconnects between the two, with the majority of healthcare brand tactics unable to support the behavioural change the brand strategy demands for success. Audits of brand plans reveal an overwhelming reliance on education and information. While there is a role for these in behavioural change, there are many other aspects that should be taken into consideration for sustainable change to occur.

Creating interventions that enable positive behaviour It is not only patient behaviour that is under investigation: physicians, nurses and payors all have contributing behaviour that affect patients. Bringing these insights together with researched ways of creating interventions to enable positive behaviour change looks to be a promising way of improving outcomes. Of particular interest is the way that HCPs receive and process medical communications. Not all scientific engagements are born equal and a better application of behavioural science would optimise healthcare companies ability to communicate new data and to effect positive change earlier in the life cycle of their brands.

In particular, scientific conferences represent the largest gathering of healthcare customers each year. Taking a scientific approach to the content and delivery of data on exhibitions and in symposia are set to yield more memorable and changing experiences. In the face of overwhelming volumes of data, how do healthcare companies stand out and ensure the evidence is viewed in the right way?

Using a behavioural science approach to this has proven to be successful in creating environments that are conducive to reframing choice and affecting change. mccglc has pioneered this approach in healthcare and is building on this unique approach to enhance engagement design in building better brands, better content and better interactions through behaviourally informed spatial design at exhibitions.

Understand and evolve Healthcare companies therefore need to understand patient and HCP behaviour, why patients do and do not follow medical advice and how best to help them make better health decisions. They need to go beyond traditional market research to uncover the basis of behaviour and plan how to positively influence it.

We will see healthcare start to work with engagement experts early on in drug development, employing skills from ethnography, anthropology, linguistics and digital technology to build better pictures of patient and HCP choice. Like most industries, healthcare must evolve to remain relevant, and this is one direction the industry will have to look at in the near future.

About the author

Mark Lightowler PhD, GFMD is the Executive Director of Strategy, Science and Engagement at mccglc, where he helps healthcare and technology companies build better engagements through design & branding,  scientific conferences, exhibitions and events.


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