A new report by One15 Healthcare called “Awareness Campaigns That Resonate: Learnings from World Asthma Day” offers pharma key insights into how to tap into disease awareness days to build long-term engagement and influence.

At one end of the scale, corporate disease awareness activities work to establish unmet needs in the minds of stakeholders; at the other end, they strive to improve treatment outcomes through education and best practice sharing. Successfully executed, a disease awareness campaign should be able to demonstrate a value-based outcome – improved disease management or adherence, increased access, a change in prescribing behaviour, improved organisational trust, improved health literacy or enhanced patient connectivity.

Their potential is vast, offering a way for pharma to participate in  patient conversation, to learn what their brand’s actual and potential end-users are thinking and feeling and get a sense of the patient journey that might otherwise remain hidden. Yet few pharma companies have capitalised fully on the increased engagement potential of disease awareness days.

Untapped potential

According to Emma Sutcliffe, Patient Engagement Consultant, NextGenHC, formerly Consultant Director, Patient Engagement at Grünenthal, the focus should be on life awareness as opposed to disease awareness. “Having worked with hundreds of patient groups in my professional capacity, I’ve learned that patients want you to understand their daily challenges and I often think that pharma vastly underestimates the enormous potential of social media. It’s not just a tool to connect and be heard or to listen for insights. It’s a barometer for population health – social health meterology, if you like. If you consider the power of machine learning algorithms to analyse tweet streams, you could predict disease outbreaks and even potentially pick up on signals that allow for early disease identification and intervention. Having that kind of rich data is enormously powerful and it’s a veritable goldmine of information that we’ve yet to tailor interventions for”.

Research continues to present tenuous suggestions that social media is well suited to enhance management of chronic disease and improve health outcomes. “The technical term is therapeutic affordance. Particular areas that merit attention include social media’s ability to filter and guide people to useful information, connect individuals, and share experiences. There is an absence of published studies examining and unpacking the underlying therapeutic mechanisms driving social media’s effects but research has demonstrated the therapeutic effect of vocalising pain – it increases our tolerance to endure pain. Vocalising is analgesic”.

Ongoing engagement versus campaigns

When it comes to disease awareness participation, Sutcliffe’s advice is clear: “You need to add value to the patient’s life, you need to be in it for the long haul – not sporadic campaigning and you need to do your research, through social listening – that way you get your messaging right and you can make a definite impact”.

An example of adding value and providing practical tools is Pfizer’s Public Restrooms iPhone app and the disease awareness campaign that surrounded it to highlight the challenge of identifying the nearest toilet for overactive bladder patients and women in particular. “To me, it offered a solution to a practical problem and encouraged people to seek help – that’s real value for a patient”.


Sutcliffe has developed an acronymn – BREATHE, to highlight how pharma should approach patient-centered care and build engagement.

“The core components provide guidance as to how pharma should approach disease awareness campaigns – it’s about helping people get on with their lives. A well-crafted disease awareness campaign can have enduring impact but you need to do your homework first. What are the pain points, the niggling frustrations, the problems to be solved and don’t forget to entertain – humour is therapy – it releases endorphins, relaxes, boosts the immune system, it brings communities together and it relieves stress. If you want patients to associate good emotional reactions to your company brand, make them laugh”.

To download the full report, click here: Awareness Campaigns That Resonate: Learnings from World Asthma Day