ACTIVE EMPATHY AND THE PATIENT JOURNEY
At Harper Global, we have often been called upon to help our pharma clients develop a patient journey across a wide range of disease states. For us, patient journey research typically involves qualitative market research with diagnosed patients, caregivers, and physicians. There are usually many moving parts to patient journey research, and all carry weight and importance in understanding the patient experience. Patient journey research may include physicians, caregivers, and others as appropriate. In our patient journey research, the emotional element is critical to understanding the entire process. For this post, we will focus on the role of the emotional experience of the patients and caregivers in patient journey research.
In our experience, our clients are passionate about serving patients. They want and need to understand how patients move through the experience from the first onset of symptoms to diagnosis, treatment, and beyond (which varies significantly based on the disease state). Additionally, patient journey research can be conducted at different stages of the drug development cycle – from early clinical trials to launch. Our pharma clients strive to understand how their product ultimately improves the patient experience.
To be able to understand the patient at this level, we must think about the patient traveling from one point to another, as one non-small cell lung cancer patient told us:
"I have a grateful heart that I can share my journey. I am grateful for every living, breathing day. When I feel as normal as I can be, I feel fluid, like a moving waterfall. I can move, and I feel alive."
It helps to view each patient journey as a fluid, dynamic, and ever-changing waterfall. When we think of it this way, we sense there is more to the experience (or journey, if you will) than what is on the surface. The rushing water captivates us but does not tell the story of what lies beneath. This means your approach to understanding the patient journey must similarly flow and get beyond the surface to get the whole story.
As qualitative market researchers, we have the privilege of meeting and connecting with people in all walks of life. Happy people, sad people, professional people, frustrated people, fearful people, and so many more. In patient journey research, respondents are more than a means to the end. They are people with lives outside of our research needs who deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. This becomes even more critical when conducting patient journey work, because to get beneath the surface, we need respondents to trust us, to be vulnerable with us, and in many cases, to relive and retell extremely painful and emotional experiences. This only happens when we as researchers actively demonstrate that we are reliving their experience with them. We call this Active Empathy. It is more than just acknowledging what respondents share; it is a demonstration of compassionate understanding of what respondents share with us.
As researchers, we are told that we must maintain our objectivity. However, that does not mean that we must lose our humanity. If something moves you in patient journey research, if you connect with a part of the story respondents share, let them know about your connection and how you feel. It is possible to be with them in their experience, to cry with them, and to laugh with them, and still maintain the objectivity needed to reach your research goals. We believe that you can only get deeper beneath the surface of the moving water when you allow yourself to feel alongside them. And that will result in better and deeper insights.
Active Empathy is more than just an acknowledgment of what respondents share. It is a demonstration of compassionate understanding. They need to know that we share their feelings, allowing us to flow with them down the river and over the waterfall's edge.
At Harper Global, we believe it is an honor to share their journey experience and, most importantly, to help our clients feel what they feel. In our next post, we will discuss how we do this from a methodology perspective.
This is Part One of a blog series on getting swept away with the Patient Journey. Check back for our next blog, discussing how we do this. Be on the lookout for How We Flow With Patients: Multi-modal/Multi-Touchpoint Journey Research