Patient community is not a new concept, thankfully. Patient communities provide a space (online and/or in person) where people facing a similar condition can come together to support one another.
This kind of support may come in the form of providing recommendations on good food to eat while dealing with a particular condition. People may offer advice on how to prepare for a specific procedure. Folks may share tips on exercises or stretches that really work for them.
The possibilities go on and on.
There are a ton of wonderful patient communities out there.
My family has had the chance to interact with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. We’ve participated in walks for awareness and met a ton of other families that have similar experiences to ours. In some ways, we get to see just how “normal” our day-to-day really is. Here are a ton of other households dealing with the same kind of stuff we are. They also have to deal with infusion schedules. They also have to figure out the right kinds of diets and medications along with their doctors.
These kinds of communities can make a truly frightening scenario much more manageable. While our doctors were a big help in treating the disease, the community helped us figure out what daily life could look like.
What Is the Role of the Brand?
As we look at these kinds of communities, we need to tread carefully. These are not places to be exploited. The whole idea of being “salesy” here would be kinda gross anyway, right?
But, brands have a role to play.
All three of these communities offer a space for patients / consumers / people who need the product to be able to interact with one another and get advice on daily life with a cochlear implant.
These brands offer a highly relevant experience to a select group of people. The companies involved are not trying to offer a community that includes all hearing problems known to man. They’re dealing with a specific part of a patient journey.
Also, these kinds of communities aren’t really a sales tactic, though knowing that there is support on the other side of a procedure is enticing.
We recently had a conversation with Jose Bohorquez of Bold Type, which we’ll be featuring here on the site soon. It’s a conversation on designing products for medical devices in the home. While we focused on user behaviors and security, this group of patients are the kinds of folks who could really benefit from these sorts of communities.
In the same way that my family needed to learn daily life with a new condition, families with new medical devices need support. That support goes beyond a functional, well-made device and software.
A Page from Pharma
Pharma has more of a head start on these types of efforts than medical devices. A lot of the biggest medical device companies focus on large hospital types of purchases, so communities in that context would focus more on physicians (see our last article on medtech communities for physicians for more). As at-home care becomes a bigger part of the healthcare journey for a much larger group of people, medtech companies have a chance to think about this sector anew.
Yes, offering support channels will help, but there is a real opportunity that comes from letting patients interact with one another. In Belonging to the Brand, Mark Schaefer covered many of the benefits of what brand communities can provide. For the sake of a brand considering how to stay innovative, one of the most directly applicable ideas is seeing what end users request, what they suggest, and how they adapt when something doesn’t meet their needs.
- Seeing end user requests
- Reading suggestions on how to resolve a product issue
- Learning how consumers adapt when a product doesn’t meet their needs
These are the kinds of insights you normally have to beg and plead for in focus groups, but these kinds of conversations are happening every day. Brands need to offer a space for this kind of community to gather and provide ongoing support and nurture.
When we think about how hard we have to work to get real consumer feedback, the cost of developing and maintaining a community is relatively low.
Any time you need to set up a community for consumers in medtech, you certainly have to think through the various legal and security concerns. You can’t just spin up a spot on Discord or Facebook Groups. But, as Schaefer points out, many communities die because they live behind a login. There simply isn’t enough reason to keep drawing people back to that spot to keep them engaged.
As you go to design your brand community experience, consider how you can make the experience as seamless as possible. If you have an app consumers need to access, look at adding the community in directly there. If you have any sort of email sequence you need to send to customers, add the link. Make it easy for consumers to participate.
One quick note… one way to deeply frustrate patients and consumers is to ONLY offer a community in lieu of great product support. This will result in a decidedly negative tone in your communities. If you’ve ever had to dig through one of Google’s or Facebook’s forums to try and find the answer to your advertising issue, you know the exact type of conversation I’m talking about.
Everyone is unhappy in that scenario.
Give a Platform to Your Ardent Supporters
The first time I heard the term “evangelist” used for anything outside of a religious context, it was from Guy Kawasaki. In my mind, he really popularized the concept for brands with Apple. It wasn’t a straight advertising play. It was Guy sharing his admiration for the product and how these devices could solve so many other people’s problems.
There’s a good chance that you have some evangelists in your consumer base. A community such as the one we’re talking about here can be the perfect chance for these “superusers” to come forward and share.
Look for ways to nurture these relationships. Consider sharing their experience far and wide. These folks are here to help others that have been in a similar situation. Don’t squander that opportunity.
The Benefits of Community Are Available
Communities need strategy. They are not a “set it and forget it” kind of play. That said, communities offer brands the chance to lean in to a much more valuable sort of “opt in” type of messaging.
As people become more difficult to reach than ever, brands have to offer more value to end users. Community can be that value.
Michael spends a great deal of time with the healthcare industry both professionally and personally, which gives him the perspective of what stakeholders on either side of the care equation need.
He began coding in 2008 and subsequently shifted his attention entirely to online marketing. Michael completed his MBA in 2018, focusing on the intersection of healthcare and marketing.