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Overcoming Communication Obstacles to Patient Engagement and Adherence


While the primary focus of patient adherence programs today has shifted from the product to the patient, the communication barriers that hinder patient interaction and engagement are still common. Many of these barriers can be overcome by investigating and addressing the root causes of issues, which often occur in either the basic program design and/or within technology systems.

This article looks at three common obstacles and how they can be addressed in order to improve communications, and as a result, improve the adherence rates and outcomes of your programs.

The Obstacle: Patients lack interest in participating, or the program does not allow for patient interaction.
The Solution: Design a program that emphasizes empowerment and two-way communication.

A basic principle to keep in mind when considering the communications modes of your programs is that patients do not want to be “compliant,” they want to be empowered. The more that patients understand why they need to take a specific medication in a timely and consistent manner, or how they will benefit from participating in a treatment regimen, the more likely they will become fully invested in the process to reach a desired end goal. Poor communication often results in patients who don’t feel that they program reflects their needs, concerns, and interests. Enabling for two-way communication is crucial — that means allowing ample opportunities and channels for feedback, and tailored resources to be shared at the right time throughout the entire course of the program.

The Obstacle: Communication with the patient is “one size fits all.”
The Solution: Allow for interactions that are flexible and relevant.

Many factors come into play in the communications of adherence programs: the channel (phone call, text, online chat, etc.), the frequency, the topics discussed. But all too often these communications are designed with solely the general group patient profile in mind. While overarching information about the patient profile is important, it needs to be married with the flexibility of individual experiences and preferences. There are many factors that influence patient behavior — age, gender, family, socio-economic, financial, and logistical — and each of these adapts the patient journey. For example, a more responsive model could mean stratifying patients by level of risk and adjusting the information provided, and the frequency of contact, depending on the needs of the patient at that particular moment. Interactions need to adapt to the patient, not just the patient population.

The Obstacle: Communication systems are siloed — they inaccurately portray a straight narrative, and lack the necessary insight into the entire patient journey.
The Solution: Leverage new technology to assist in program coordination and tracking.

Technology is critical in adopting an adaptive approach to patient communications, but it needs to be orchestrated and adaptive. Taking advantage of a system that synchronizes with the ups and downs of a patient’s journey can help manage variation and provide guidance and insights through intelligence and integrated analytics. Far too long, systems have been focused on single business models or functional areas. This hinders patient communications by creating a fragmented customer journey. As programs become patient-centric and holistic, the technology should follow suit. A platform that allows for evolving interactions with a patient can present a big-picture perspective, and through continuous sensing and orchestration, offer real-time insights and assist with decision-making.

While it’s true that the most effective patient adherence programs keep patient engagement at the heart of their programs, that’s no longer sufficient as a stand-alone element. Considering what patient-centricity really means in terms of communications — and how technology can make a difference — will allow for adherence programs to adapt and improve in real-time, and help further their goal of improving patient outcomes.

Pega Decision Hub Patient and HCP JourneyDiagram, courtesy of Pegasystems, illustrates how patient communications across all channels meet in one hub, combined with the ongoing communications with healthcare providers. In this article, the challenges to patient communications are in focus.



Ed_ChaseEd Chase is the director of Life Sciences Solutions at Pegasystems, where he manages the strategy, design, development and marketing of enterprise software products and solutions. He has spent more than 20 years in the software industry, with the majority of those in life sciences, covering both R&D and Commercial solutions. Ed brings a deep technology background that includes product management and development for enterprise applications, business process automation, imaging and electronic documents, and information assurance and authentication. Currently he leads the Patient-Centric strategy, marketing and product development for Pega’s life sciences applications. He can be contacted via email at

Susan Mattson_BW-webSusan Mattson has more than 25 years of management experience in the pharmaceutical, healthcare and education industries. She has owned her own business development and marketing firm and has served as the director of public relations for a major hospital, with responsibility for marketing, public affairs, community health and development.  She was also previously the assistant vice president of public relations and marketing for a major university. She began her career as a U.S. Naval Officer in public affairs. Susan currently serves as a senior director in account management for programs at C3i Healthcare Connections, with oversight of several patient engagement, access and reimbursement programs and business process outsourcing programs. She can be contacted via email at


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