Forget patient-centric models that don’t work. Let's talk social centricity, say researchers

It’s time to move past patient centricity to social centricity. That was the message from inVentiv Health and GSW at Cannes Lions Health, where they presented the idea of a more holistic perspective.

What is social centricity? Not social media, as one might think at a marketing conference, but rather the entirety of a patient's social life and influences—things like family, friends, community, habits, cultural norms and workplace environment. The agency recently published a white paper with the findings, “Advancing Beyond Patient Centricity.”

“It started with the observation that the patient-centric approach that pharmaceutical companies, pharma advertising agencies and communications agencies in general are taking is not really moving the needle,” said Susan Perlbachs, executive director of inVentiv agency GSW. “Everyone thought patient-centric would win the day. If we focused on patients, the outcomes would be better and healthcare would be better. But it’s just not working.”

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So Kathleen Starr, behavioral scientist at inVentiv, and her team InVentiv’s began what became a two-year enthnography study in which they followed 30 families from Boston; Portland, Oregon; Kansas City and Shreveport, Lousiana, and looked at the entire ecosystem and wide-ranging spheres of influence on patients.

“We’ve gotten really good about prompting initial behavior change. We can get people to do something the first time, maybe the second time—talk to your doctor, go to the pharmacy pick up your script, right? But what we haven’t figured out is what is the secret sauce for long-term behavior change?” she said.

“Studying those families for two years and seeing how their real life intersects with all the efforts they made to manage their conditions was really enlightening," she went on. "What we saw is that we aren’t going to make a dent in long-term behavior change until we start thinking about the social influences and use creativity to create a social context in which people can actually engage in healthcare.”

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At Lions Health, the two presented insights from the study and then launched into an interactive session that included dozens of real-world examples where patients' behaviors were influenced by some kind of societal change.

For example, the Lucky Iron Fish initiative in Cambodia in which an iron fish is added to a pot of food and boiling water to provide up to 75% of the daily iron needed by anemic mothers there. Another inVentiv pointed to came from U.K. designer Hayden Peek and his bid to analyze grocery basket purchases. The idea is to list the nutritional content of an entire shopping cart at the bottom of the grocery receipt. It takes the familiar behavior of watching checkout items and reading receipts, and adds analysis using a green-yellow-red stoplight system to flag less-healthy choices.

As Starr said, “We need to get out of that thinking of ‘Oh, I just need to motivate the patient.’ What we need to think about is what are the other levers I can pull in the family system or what are the levers to pull in the healthcare system or cultural norms or with physicians. … Not just increase awareness and motivation, but create a context where change can continue to happen.”

This year's Cannes Lions Health coverage is brought to you by Klick Health. All editorial content is written and produced independently of our sponsor.