The goat ate my homework – or why to give people the benefit of the doubt

The end of the year is nigh. Every year, starting with 2020 has been worse than the last. Here’s hoping that the final days of 2022 are filled with warmth, candlelight and simple joyful moments. December is a month of celebration, and for those of us, who celebrate Christmas, gift giving. In line with gift giving, today I continue my focus on the gift of great customer service.

Topics for today’s blog are:

– The goat ate my homework – or why to give people the benefit of the doubt
– Thoughts on medical Information provision to patients
– Medical information inquiry tracking – the tip of the iceberg?
– How does your contact centre measure up?

The Goat ate my Homework – or why to Give People the Benefit of the Doubt

As many of you know I am on the board of the charity the Virtual Doctors. We provide access to NHS volunteer second opinions for clinical officers, providing healthcare to rural populations in Zambia and Malawi. We have been working with a volunteer-built software for enquiry management and are now developing a new tool to provide better service and better analytics to monitor what we do, how we do it and how useful it is, and to allow us to keep on learning to improve the value we add.

One of my volunteer colleagues, who is working with me on the software, sent me this today “Bizarre as it sounds, I just started reading your last email about the RFP, when my little goat kid stepped on the keyboard and now not only has it been deleted but it’s not even in the Deleted file!! Goat magic”.

Key takeaway: Always give people the benefit of the doubt, because sometimes the dog did eat the homework.

Thoughts on Medical Information Provision to Patients

Whether it’s an industry meeting, on a pharmaceutical company website, or when in a conversation with an individual, who works for a pharmaceutical company, at some point I hear the words “everything we do, we do for patients”. Pharmaceutical company employees are justifiably proud of the fact that products their companies develop are life-changing, lifesaving, life-prolonging. I have witnessed this in my family and the gratitude I have, that thanks to research and innovative products, someone I love very much is still alive 20 years after a cancer diagnosis, is enormous. The industry, researchers, doctors and insurers as well as regulators all play a part in improving healthcare for patients. The problem is that patients expect more today than they did 30 years ago.

Today’s patient is well-informed, has access to the internet, has generally already researched his or her condition and expects a dialogue with the partners who provide healthcare solutions, this includes the pharmaceutical industry. However, when patients contact pharmaceutical companies, outside the US, where different rules apply, with questions on products, they are almost always referred back to their treating physicians with the words “unfortunately, we cannot provide you with a response to your question, please discuss this with your physician, and he can contact us if he has more questions”. Sometimes patients have questions on stability, access to medicines, drug interactions, or just want more information so that they can make an informed decision when talking to their doctor.

Some companies have standard response documents for patients, involving patients in developing these documents, some have websites with information for patients, others provide data on product stability to patients but don’t respond to other questions.

If you currently provide none of the above, perhaps 2023 is the year you review what your company provides to patients, benchmark this against what other companies are doing and have a heart-to-heart conversation with your legal and compliance department to see if you can expand your service offerings for patients, compliantly, but with the goal to add more value for them, when they reach out to you.

Key takeaway: the pharmaceutical industry could do a better job of meeting patients’ information needs. Finding the right approach is not easy, but eminently worth doing.

Medical Information Inquiry Tracking – the tip of the Iceberg?

Data is king. Everyone wants insights, metrics, integrated datasets and data trends. So far so good. The issue is that if you don’t track you cannot analyse, this is a challenge that many companies face. Many different individuals engage with HCPs and depending on the employee’s allegiance, commercial, medical or medical information, what they track and how they track will vary widely. If you are only looking at your medical information database to understand key topics that doctors are interested in, you are missing out. To find out if the Medical Information enquiries you track are possibly only the tip of the iceberg, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How is Medical Information categorised in my company:
    • Only the enquiries that reach the Med Info team?
    • Enquiries that reach the Med Info team directly as well as any that are answered directly by MSLs and Medical Affairs colleagues without involving Medical Information
  2. Where are these inquiries tracked?
  3. Do you have comparable ontology and taxonomy across systems so you can analyse the data easily?
  4. If you look at the size of your markets, are you receiving the volume of inquiries you would expect, relative to the market size, from each market, or are you seeing huge differences?

Key take away: you cannot analyse what you cannot see.

How Does your Contact Centre Measure up?

Your customers do not differentiate between your solution provider and your company. From the customers’ perspective you are one and the same thing. Naturally, your contact centre provider is working on your behalf, however, some things may be automated, and it pays to look at the entire process and all the communications that are sent out, holistically. As, here, like anywhere small things can make a huge difference, beyond turnaround times, time to picking up the phone, research abilities etc. So, when looking at how your contact centre does, beyond metrics, consider the following, whether the materials are generated by you and provided to the contact centre or generated by contact centre staff:

  1. Cover letters that go out to customers
    • Is the customers enquiry summarised or rendered in detail?
    • Is the letter personalised?
    • If there is no data available, how is this communicated? You cannot change that there is no data, but you can communicate, that you regret that there is currently nothing available, and that you cannot help the customer at this time
  2. Letters that go out to patients. Does your contact centre merely state, “we cannot provide you with any information” and refer the patient back to the doctor, or do they do more?
  3. Is the response provided targeted to the customer’s enquiry, or are entire long documents sent out, in the words of one customer a “ I am sorry there is no answer” plus 3 disclaimers.
  4. How is the data tracked? Do you receive analytics? Do you have access to the system and the data?
  5. How are internal stakeholders informed about HCP enquiries the contact centre manages? How do you ensure that everyone is in the loop?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s enough to be going on with!

Key take away: you can always be better at what you do.

I hope my blog provides you with some useful insights and, as ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. And if you have a challenging project or would like to discuss coaching to help you achieve that next level, please reach out for an informal chat.

Wishing you all the very best for 2023!

Isabelle C. Widmer

Photo by Peter Lloyd on Unsplash