Jo Spink: Changing behaviour in pharma

Behaviour change is a concept that takes place in our everyday lives, but only recently have we begun to understand the power of it and how it can change people’s lives for the better. Whether we are influenced by the adverts we see or the conversations we have, our behaviours and attitude are constantly being shifted, which can cause a butterfly effect, where a small change can result in a much bigger outcome.

Behaviour change in practice

The Global Hygiene Council launched the ‘Small Steps for Big Change’ campaign, which identified five steps where small changes in hygiene can make a big difference to help reduce preventable infections in children. This behaviour change campaign was led with the intervention to educate healthcare professionals and parents of the changes that can be applied to their day-to-day routine and reduce the risk of infectious diseases.

As a result of the campaign, over 350 health and hygiene organisations including leading non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the World Health Organization and the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene, engaged with the campaign.

The science behind change

Recently, experts at University College London (UCL) have investigated the science and complexity of behaviour change. Their findings have been simplified using their COM-B model which is derived from the ‘Behaviour Change Wheel’; a synthesis of 19 frameworks of behaviour change found in research literature.

COM-B stands for Capability, Opportunity, Motivation and Behaviour. In simple terms, to achieve your outcome you need to investigate whether your audience are Capable, whether they have the Opportunity and are Motivated enough to change their behaviour. Once the most significant barrier is highlighted through this process, the decision can be made on what intervention can then be applied to encourage the desired Behaviour change. This is one of the reasons why it’s an exciting time for those looking to shift behaviour in healthcare, because we are starting to see significant outcomes when the framework is used correctly.

Interruptive intervention

Sometimes, it requires a much more interruptive intervention to make a change. It is estimated that up to 50% of patients taking medicines for chronic conditions do not take their medicines as prescribed. Wasted medicines are thought to cost the NHS around £300 million per year.

Although experts have been trying to tackle the issue for a considerable amount of time, the rates of nonadherence have not changed in the past three decades.

Behaviour change can’t happen overnight, but with the right strategy in place and applying the right variation of interventions, it’s possible to make a difference, whether that is helping someone to stop smoking, encouraging a patient to attend a check-up or educating parents to provide healthier food options for their children.

The importance of insight

Before you begin the COM-B process, you need to gather insight that is relevant to your product, service or company. This is typically broken down in to three areas.

Market: Who are the competition? What are they doing? How do they compare? This will determine the areas you need to address first; do you have a USP? Are they doing something that you can do better? If you can’t compete with their levels of investment, do you need to do something different?

Product/Service: What is your offering? What is your mission? What is your personality? This is what differentiates you from the competition and underpins everything you do. Remind yourself of this during the planning phases.

Audience: Who are you targeting? What are their habits? What do they think?

We encourage clients to review their audience as often as possible to ensure that the communication strategy is still relevant and reaching the right audience. It’s not uncommon for new audiences to develop, especially following a trend or social shift. We’ve seen dermatological brands who target 40+ women see a spike in the summer period from a much younger audience looking to achieve better skin health results. We’ve also seen a more image conscious audience begin to adopt probiotics to help their skin, rather than those who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as is more common. It can be complicated to keep up to speed with how an audience is behaving, so investing in audience research every few years is key.

More important than ever

Every day, incredible breakthroughs in healthcare, revolutionary drugs and state
of the art therapies are made available. It is, therefore, more important than ever
that we ensure patients are getting the treatment they need, by influencing them
to make informed decisions through the power of effective communications.

Jo Spink is Founder and Creative Strategist at Spink.



Michie et al (2011) Implementation Science

Executive Summary; Evaluation of the Scale, Causes and Costs of Waste Medicines. York Health Economics

Consortium and School of Pharmacy University of London, 2010.