For pharma companies looking to execute behaviour change campaigns, understanding how to influence small shifts in our actions and attitudes will result in much bigger outcomes for improving health and wellbeing.
Top 5 takeaways
1. Behaviour change campaigns can help modify long-standing habits
2. Challenge for pharma is understanding how to influence small shifts in behaviour
3. Marketeers must consider behaviour trends that are likely to stick
4. Social media will be key to the success of campaigns
5. Technology can enable successful remote patient management
Positive behaviour change has the power to improve our health, happiness and even save lives. The most prevalent chronic health conditions in Europe, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obstructive lung diseases and diabetes, are strongly linked with lifestyle. With the correct strategies in place and the right interventions, behaviour change campaigns can help modify the long-standing habits that contribute to these diseases. Whether it is helping people to stop smoking, increase their exercise levels, reduce anxiety or attend a routine medical screening, there’s an opportunity to make a valuable difference to people’s lives.
However, as humans, we naturally resist change and often stay passive when action is good for us. We have a tendency to put up barriers, distrust information and retreat into our own echo chambers. The challenge for pharma companies looking to execute behaviour change campaigns is understanding how to influence small shifts in our actions and attitudes that can result in much bigger outcomes for improving health and wellbeing.
Behavioural change models
There are numerous behaviour change theories and models, largely drawn from psychology and informed by economics and sociology. One of the best-known approaches is the Stages of Change or Transtheoretical Model, introduced in the late 1970s by Prochaska and DiClemente. In this model, change occurs gradually, and relapses are an inevitable part of the process. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during the early stages, but they eventually develop a proactive and committed approach to changing a behaviour.
More recently, the COM-B model1 sets out that behaviour comes about from an interaction of Capability, Opportunity and Motivation to carry out the Behaviour. Do people have the skills and/or knowledge to change behaviour? Do social, interpersonal and physical environment factors affect their ability to implement change? And do they believe that it is worth spending the effort to change, or even that change is possible? Once the most significant barrier is highlighted through this process, the most appropriate intervention can be applied to encourage the desired behaviour change.
A prime example of this in practice is the Global Hygiene Council’s activity to promote lasting hygiene habits with primary school children. A partnership with a leading academic institute used insights from over 5,000 children, parents and teachers to develop a hygiene behaviour change model, a first of its kind. This established the key behavioural barriers, such as lack of knowledge, beliefs about consequences, and social influences. These, in turn, informed intervention strategies in seven nations, helping to improve future health outcomes for children and their families.
Impact of Covid
The pandemic has enforced behaviour change upon all of us, dramatically impacting the way we work, shop, socialise and access healthcare. In some cases, change has been for the positive; Public Health England believes that many of us have taken our physical health more seriously over the last year. But the negative effects of isolation, stress and fear on our mental health are well documented and have been recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO). A variety of studies suggest this has led to negative health behaviours, such as increased alcohol consumption, drug and tobacco use, and overeating.
“The pandemic has enforced behaviour change upon all of us, dramatically impacting the way we work, shop, socialise and access healthcare”
As we start to return to normality, there is a big question mark over what behaviours will remain and to what extent we will return to old patterns and habits. When devising campaigns, marketeers must consider the behaviour trends that are likely to stick, such as working from home and more video calls with GPs. There may be fewer touchpoints to connect with consumers in person, but this situation has taught us that technology can enable successful remote patient management.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has accelerated the use of online technology to reach different audiences. For example, over the past few years we’ve seen medical congresses offering greater digital capabilities, such as live streaming. However, Covid-19 forced them to move from predominantly in-person events to fully online experiences. The success of virtual congresses means that hybrid meetings are more likely to occur in the future with as many, or more, on-line attendees as in-person delegates.
Moving forward, behaviour change campaigns are likely to incorporate health technology and digital health systems. The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of telemedicine; people with chronic conditions such as diabetes are home monitoring and using remote technology to upload results to their healthcare professional (HCP). We are being encouraged to use apps to monitor our health, such as the NHS Better Health apps for weight loss and activity measurement. And we’re seeing a rise in the number of start-ups focused on using technology to provide mental health support remotely to large groups of people.
Social media is also increasingly likely to feature in behaviour change interventions and contribute to their success. This might be in the form of online forums, polls and groups, which can encourage social interactions within interventions, promoting social support, engagement and motivation, and facilitating the adoption of social norm approaches. Analysis of 134 studies that incorporated social media features to target negative behaviours found that 70% reported positive outcomes2.
A good example is the social media programme run by the European Society for Organ Transplantation (ESOT) to drive wider engagement within the transplant community. Notably, patients are actively involved in regular half-hour Twitter chats, which are run as Q&A sessions with moderators and special guests. These allow participating patients to develop a better understanding of their conditions and treatments, and they then share this information via their own social networks. Furthermore, HCPs can learn about the patient experience, which informs and shapes their actions.
Behaviour change campaigns can make a powerful difference to people’s lives, even if the steps are small and faltering. Technology can make it easier to reach and engage with both consumers and clinicians so it’s important that marketeers continue to embrace new and effective ways of communicating.
2. Peer-Based Social Media Features in Behavior Change Interventions: Systematic Review, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2018 February
Jo Spink is Creative Strategist at emotive. Go to www.emotiveagency.com