The Intersection of Behavior and Technology in Patient Engagement


As leaders in the Life Sciences industry, we know the importance of patient engagement. We also know that effective communication is at the heart of engagement, and that the path to success differs significantly patient-to-patient.

Over the last two decades, pharmaceutical companies, HCPs, healthcare communication centers, and marketing agencies have become increasingly focused on understanding behavior and technology (and their intersection) to design “engagement” solutions: those that support, encourage, educate, and learn from patients. And an increasing number of behaviorists have emerged to guide the industry in this endeavor.

These behaviorists know that effective communication starts with listening. It makes no sense to remind a patient to take their medication if they have no intention of refilling their prescription. Or to send them an alert about an infusion appointment that they have already canceled. What needs to first be asked and understood: Do they believe their prescribed medication will make them well? Do they see the value of adhering to their therapy?

Words have to be chosen carefully when engaging “live” with patients, whether in an HCP office or through a conversation with a nurse in a healthcare communication center. Are we using words we’re confident the patient will understand? Are we continually pausing to confirm they are interpreting our words as intended? And, most importantly, are we understanding what information they need to hear so that they believe the message we are trying to deliver?

As an example, imagine two scenarios. In one, a doctor says to a patient: “Your limbs are distended. You should reduce your sodium intake.” Compare this to the other scenario, in which the doctor, pausing frequently to allow for a response, says, “Your legs are swollen. I don’t like to see that. It may be that you have too much salt in your diet. Do you think that could be true? Can you see a way to use less? Are you aware of salt substitutes? Would you like to meet with the nutritionist we have on staff?”

Technology has provided the industry with choices. Email, video calls, texting, “virtual” nurse visits, 24/7 availability—all can and do work, as long as they are carefully designed to meet the specific behavioral characteristics of the patients we are trying to reach. For instance, some patients ration their medication due to cost concerns, and may be embarrassed to ask for help. Texting patients with information about co-pay or patient assistance programs is an easy and private way to provide support to those patients (and to others who, for one reason or another, are not inclined to make contact).

Multiple studies have shown that up to 50 percent of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed. In another example of the blending of behavior and technology, there are many free medication adherence apps available that can effectively address this issue. Apps require proactive actions on the part of the patient, which can lead beyond adherence to the building of a long-term relationship with the patient through live coverage provided by a healthcare communication center.

The most successful patient engagement programs are those in which behavioral principles and the specific needs of patients drive both the message and the method of communication—whether it be live, technology-assisted, or a combination of both.

Founded by Life Science industry veterans Mary Anne Greenberg and Ron Abel, Diligent Health Solutions provides biopharma companies with a broad range of solutions and services, including patient engagement programs, medical information, creation of health information content, medical device support, telephone-based pharmaceutical sales, and product recall support. You can reach Mary Anne and Ron at or (267) 768 7191.