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Building Trust by Listening: A Priority During Lockdown

By Melanie Senior

The behavior and responsiveness of all companies and brands during the coronavirus crisis will have a big impact on how they are perceived and trusted by their customers over the longer-term. 

This is particularly true for biopharma, the sector that society is counting on to find the medicines – and perhaps a vaccine – to counter this pandemic. These uncertain times are creating fear and anxiety among many patients. Their concerns are not only about contracting or treating COVID-19 itself. They are also about how they can continue to access and afford regular medications, and about how these therapies may interact with even mild viral symptoms.

Hence the importance of listening to patients and of properly understanding their needs has never been greater. Nor has the opportunity to do so: consumer web-browsing has increased by 70% during the crisis, according to Kantar’s COVID-19 barometer, as most individuals are house-bound. Much of the chatter that used to take place on the streets, in cafes and in restaurants has shifted online.

Before this crisis, almost a quarter of the population of the developed world discussed their healthcare needs on the internet. Now that figure is likely even higher.

Capturing those millions of online patient voices in a rapid, systematic and non-intrusive fashion during this difficult period provides biopharma companies with unrivalled insights into how to reassure their customers and answer their questions. It helps them tailor their messages to address and assuage concerns, at a time when audiences are seeking out trustworthy, authoritative voices – and are captive.

Semalytix’ artificial intelligence-powered Pharos platform analyses multiple disease-focused discussion groups, health-related fora and other trusted, reliable and relevant social media sites to enable biopharma sponsors to hear patients’ voices as clearly as possible. There is little or no bias: the approach captures voices that speak freely, and often emotively, in their own language, on channels and at a time of their own choosing. In normal times, this AI-driven ‘patient listening’ helps uncover disease burden, treatment experience, the drivers of treatment decisions, outcomes, unmet needs, and more.

During this pandemic, Pharos’ advantages over traditional market research methods are even more pronounced. Focus groups and in-person discussion forums - in any case limited by certain biases and tiny patient numbers – are simply no longer an option - and it is unclear when they will be. Meanwhile, the Pharos platform is tapping into an even deeper pool of patient insights. Its ability to capture and identify how patients feel, as well as to interpret what they are saying, has particular relevance during this highly emotive period. Has the pandemic led to concerns about specific products’ availability, routes of administration or dosage? Is financial uncertainty driving greater switching?

Pharos’ international reach allows sponsors to track issues and needs across multiple markets impacted by the virus, tailoring their messaging and outreach appropriately. And Pharos offers not just a snapshot, but ongoing, almost real-time insights into patients’ views – of particular value during a fast-evolving pandemic where each day is different to the next. Sponsors may access and interrogate an interactive dashboard presenting patient-reported opinions and questions, helping them design coherent, meaningful and thus highly impactful outreach materials.

Finally, Pharos is more cost-effective than traditional market research methods. That, too, is a more pronounced advantage given the economic disruption sown by COVID-19. Growing numbers of development-stage biopharma companies report clinical trial delays and disruption to wider business activities. Many are scrambling to adopt virtual or ‘hybrid’ trials. Investors in private clinical-stage biotechs are planning for 5-6 months of delays. Ensuring resources are used wisely in those areas that can be largely maintained – such as communication, marketing and medical affairs – is paramount.

Biopharma firms, like all companies, are already adapting their messaging to include coronavirus-related information and reassurances. Those that listen most carefully, and are thereby able to most accurately tailor their communications to patients’ needs, will have a strong advantage. Listening leads to better understanding, and better understanding enables trust.

Trust is at a premium during a crisis.  There is already plenty of unhelpful noise and unreliable information out there. Those that do succeed in building trust among their customers will hang on to their advantage well after the pandemic is over.

Tags: "patient listening", Healthcare, COVID19, Pharma, Pharos