London-based healthcare communications agency asks the pharmaceutical industry: ‘Do you speak patient?’

 LONDON, UK, April 6, 2016 – AXON Communications, a specialist healthcare communications consultancy firm, today announced the launch of ‘PATH’ (Patients At The Heart), an approach to communications that aims to simplify complex information to improve outcomes in healthcare. AXON, which supports clients in public relations, market access, medical communications and clinical trial services, believes that it is the role of healthcare agencies and of their pharmaceutical industry clients to champion the voice of the patient across all communications activities. In support of the PATH launch, AXON conducted a recent survey that indicates there continues to be room for improvement in how the healthcare communications industry speaks to patients, which AXON hopes to address through its PATH approach.

“PATH is the AXON philosophy that underpins our counsel to clients and our direct interactions with patients, their loved ones, patient advocacy organisations and healthcare professionals,” said Miranda Dini, Managing Partner of AXON UK. “It’s about remembering why we’re all in the business of healthcare communications, which is ultimately to help improve the lives of patients and consumers, by constantly considering how we can make health-related information accessible and relatable.”

As part of its PATH approach, AXON conducts ethnographic research that identifies shared beliefs across patient communities, and also reveals differences between different groups of patients. These types of insights ensure that the AXON team can develop targeted, effective communications that speak to patients’ needs.

With the patient point of view in mind, AXON works closely with clients to develop appropriate communications strategies that align stakeholders behind a common goal; telling clear, compelling stories that are founded in science, and ensuring the patient’s voice and needs are at the heart of these stories.

“We try very hard to immerse ourselves in the lives of patients and understand the lens through which they view the world—their attitudes, beliefs and values,” explains Nat Turner, Director and PATH Lead, AXON UK. “This helps us to work out how to best support patients during their journeys. We start with the simple things that can make the biggest difference; for example, patients rarely say or search online for ‘oncology,’ but that’s what we often use in our industry; patients and their loved ones think ‘cancer.’ So we challenge ourselves to consider how we can address these disconnects more effectively in our communications.”

In support of the PATH launch, AXON conducted a survey of 22 patient advocacy organisations that support individuals living with various diseases and conditions. The results revealed that more than 80% of respondents believe their pharmaceutical partners could significantly improve how they communicate with patients and their support networks. Furthermore, 55% felt that the pharmaceutical industry does not use the right language when describing the relevant condition or disease. In fact, the language used in communications materials can play a powerful role in representing, and therefore engaging, a patient community. For example, many advocacy respondents noted that using phrases such as ‘loved ones’ or ‘support network’ is preferred over ‘caregivers.’

Other Key Findings:

  • The AXON survey reinforced the importance of providing information that is ‘comprehensive and covers complex issues and concepts,’ but does so using a ‘plain language’ approach
  • According to many of the advocacy group respondents, pharmaceutical companies are often missing the best way of understanding how best to effectively communicate with patients, which is simply to “ask them, instead of making assumptions”. Respondents also said “do not assume all members of a patient community have the exact same needs”
  • They also pointed out the media should try to “better understand diseases and conditions they write about,” for example, not making generalisations about different types of patients, focussing on causes of diseases instead of their impact, or not recognising the seriousness of such diseases (e.g., asthma).

“The pharmaceutical industry has come a long way in recent years in the way they communicate to and about patients, but there are simple yet significant improvements that can still be made. We welcome any initiative that helps deliver better care for patients and their loved ones,” said Raquel Peck, Chief Executive Officer, World Hepatitis Alliance.

 The industry as a whole recognises that patients are taking more ownership of their health needs and relying less on healthcare professionals as their sole source of information. But health-related consumer information often remains complex, insensitive and inappropriate for its target audience. AXON believes we should all be asking ourselves: “do I speak patient?” It’s the right PATH for all of us in this industry.


About AXON Communications, Inc.

At AXON, we simplify complex information to improve outcomes in healthcare, bringing together the right people with the right expertise to provide our clients with integrated, multichannel communications solutions. As an agency, we are passionate about healthcare communications and combine a personal touch with professionalism. Our expertise includes medical communications, public relations, clinical trial services and market access communications/consultancy for pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device, animal health and functional food companies. AXON has an international reach, with offices in London, New York, Toronto, Montreal and Copenhagen, and a worldwide affiliate network. Established in 2002, AXON is wholly owned by NATIONAL Public Relations, part of RES PUBLICA Consulting Group.