COVID-19 has drastically changed the way patients manage their own health and interact with healthcare systems and providers. Like many other industries, the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of the customer (i.e. patient) journey; we’ve embraced telehealth visits and virtual care, and the rise in availability of information online has conditioned us to consult the internet first, doctor second.

Patients now turn to social media and online platforms at every stage: they use blogs, forums, and even Reddit to seek advice, share personal health experiences, and review doctors and HCPs. Online communities like HealthUnlocked and Patientslikeme enable their users to self-diagnose, explore treatment options, and connect with peers. We even see patient and caregiver communities growing on Instagram across various conditions like alopecia, dementia, cancer, and more.

This explosion of online activity is driving the need for pharma and healthcare companies to find new ways to gather patient insights. Social listening (and its successor: AI-enabled consumer intelligence) harnesses social data to provide a real-time, authentic look at patients’ and HCPs’ experiences and behaviors. It enables brands to understand evolving patient journeys by answering critical questions like:

Where do patients turn for information at the onset of symptoms?

By tracking forums, blogs, and social network sites, social listening reveals where patients seek information and who the top influencers and decision-makers are. These insights can tell us what patients think, feel, and do at the early stages of illness (or even prevention), so brands can understand how patients talk about their conditions and what their most-trusted resources are.

Topic Modeling scans and categorizes millions of patient-generated data points, so you can understand what topics and themes are top of mind.

One leading pharmaceutical company used Synthesio’s platform to investigate online conversations about prostate cancer and potential treatments. Text analysis revealed a disconnect between how patients talked about the illness and the language used by the brand in their education and marketing materials. This gap meant patients searching for information never found their way to the company’s website or related content. So, the brand revamped its messaging to reflect the patients’ own words, optimized pay-per-click advertising, and made it easier for search engines to direct patients to its site.

How, where, and by whom are patients diagnosed?

To deliver better products – and ensure their success – pharma brands need to understand patients’ journeys and obstacles to diagnosis. For common, mild illnesses, patients may be more likely to self-diagnose and self-treat with OTC medications or holistic alternatives. In other cases, patients may struggle to receive a diagnosis for a serious condition because HCPs fail to order the right tests or don’t “speak the same language” as patients, leading to misunderstanding and misdiagnosis. By analyzing conversations around specific illnesses and diseases, brands can better facilitate the path to diagnosis by equipping patients and HCPs with the right knowledge and tools.

For example, a Synthesio biopharmaceutical client analyzed social data over a 2-year period to better understand the journey of patients with a particular illness. Topics surfaced from text analytics and qualitative exploration found that patients with mild to moderate symptoms chose not to visit a doctor for diagnosis and prescription treatment because of the inconvenience and financial burden. However, these patients also lacked the knowledge to self-diagnose, so many cases went undiagnosed and untreated. By uncovering this barrier to diagnosis, the brand realized that they needed to provide educational content and resources for patients to be able to 1) identify the illness at the first sign of symptoms, and 2) select the appropriate OTC remedy.

How do patients seek and obtain treatment?

Social insights provide a real-time look at patients’ awareness and perception of treatment options. This means pharma companies can delve into patients’ pain points and barriers to treatment like access to HCPs, conversations with HCPs about treatment options, awareness of their condition, etc. As more HCPs and caregivers use social media to share their opinions and knowledge about treatments and medications, brands must be able to decode these conversations. Advancements in consumer intelligence technology now allow brands to identify the “author” of online content – HCP or patient – so they can understand and compare how both parties talk about a medication, brand, or illness.

Another biopharmaceutical client wanted to bring their prescription medication over-the-counter and needed to understand the current OTC treatment landscape. Analysis of millions of online conversations about the illness, patient experiences, and existing OTC and Rx treatments revealed key findings: 1) negative sentiment about the brand’s perceived prohibitive cost of medications compared to competitors and 2) a lack of knowledge about how and when to use the treatment. With these insights, the brand brought their Rx medication over-the-counter with a new pricing strategy, educational content that addressed patients’ knowledge gaps, and an understanding of their competitive landscape.

By monitoring online conversations over time, brands can track patients’ perception of and interest in competitors’ products.

As the healthcare landscape continues to digitize and transform, it’s more important than ever that pharma brands bring patient voices to the fore. Social insights have become a critical component of understanding patients, HCPs, and caregivers – and a key input into developing products and services that meet their needs.

Want to learn more about how you can use social listening to decode the patient journey? Click here to set up a demo with me!