Author: Helen Laurence

A nudge in the right direction

by Helen Laurence |

At Makara we are always keen to support our industry and it was great to be able to both sponsor and help shape the recent HCA Annual Conference event: “The Future of Nudge Marketing in HCP Communications.” Well-attended (despite the finish coinciding with the England v Germany match!), this virtual panel discussion considered the role of behavioural science techniques now and in the future, with perspectives from the clinical, consumer and industry settings.

A couple of weeks on, I’ve been reflecting on some of the interesting points the discussion raised. What came through loud and clear for me is that even organisations that are not formally embracing nudge techniques, or similar strategies, are likely doing so unwittingly. Symposium polls and peer-to-peer engagement events rely on our tendency to observe and be influenced by what others are doing – we are driven to conform to social norms and clinicians are no different. The formats and contexts in which we share our data and messages is well thought out to ensure clinicians see the relevant points, in a meaningful way, at an opportune time. The relevance of a piece of information has a big impact on our decision-making and that is at the heart of communications in healthcare. Every communication, every email, notification or reminder, can be a nudge. How effective they are depends on how well they are executed.

What I like about nudges is the fact they are geared towards creating the right conditions for people to make their own changes, rather than forcing change upon them. Doubtless these techniques can be used for commercial or political ends but that’s not what I believe is happening in the healthcare space. The panel were at pains to emphasise that education and patient outcomes should be the guiding principle in any nudge campaign that targets HCPs and, as with all compliance-related questions in our industry, it really comes down to intention. If the intention is to improve outcomes and help patients then nudge techniques are an appropriate tool in our armoury.

So what does the future hold? Well, we can likely expect campaigns to become more sophisticated as digital platforms allow for new mediums of communication and a greater capacity for personalisation.  Given access to user data, the ability to target HCPs with relevant information, in a format they prefer, is becoming ever easier and we are already beginning to see online platforms offering clinicians a more Netflix-style experience when it comes to educational content. Will technology also enable greater personalisation for patients, particularly as we move to a more virtual approach in terms of consultation and care?

Personally, I hope so. Nudge strategies coupled with personalisation represent a powerful tool when it comes to behaviour change and, as long as we get the intention right and make evidence-based interventions, the potential for improvements in health outcomes could be significant.


Want to know more? The panel helpfully signposted some useful resources:

The Year of the Nurse: Why we need to engage with the nursing community in 2020

by Helen Laurence |

2020 is the World Health Organisation’s Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. In med comms it is generally acknowledged that nurses represent an important target audience. Regular contact with a good nurse specialist can make the difference for patients struggling with asthma, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and myriad other long-term conditions. Educated, empathetic and driven, there can be no doubt that nurses have a pivotal role to play in patient care.

Why is it then that they are rarely top of the list when it comes to communications strategies? Why do GPs or consultants always seem to trump nurses when it comes to defining the target audiences? While it’s difficult to say for sure, the following reasons may all play a role:

  1. Nurses are not the main prescribers. Likely the number one reason and there is certainly a strong rationale for prioritising GPs or consultants. However, nurses increasingly share prescribing responsibilities and, those that don’t, are often trusted advisors to the prescribers themselves. Although they may not always play a key role in diagnosis – nurses are involved in ongoing management and treatment reviews. They are also the ones giving a positive feedback loop to consultants when they see the benefits a new therapeutic option has brought to one of their patients.
  2. An unconscious assumption that nurses don’t understand data. I’ve often sat in meetings where a GP or consultant has said something along the lines of “I don’t think nurses are interested in the data” or “I’m not sure nurses will understand that”. Now, while a nursing role does require a focus on clinical delivery, in my experience nurses often relish the opportunity to learn about the data behind a treatment, even if that means giving up their personal time. Developing the right format in which to share data with nurses in a way that is relevant for them is a smart approach and I’ve seen this work well when our clients have consulted with nurses directly and developed bespoke education based on their insights.
  3. A belief that nurses are already too busy. Nurses do have heavy workloads, however, they are also passionate about what they do. Like teaching, nursing is a vocation and it never ceases to amaze and impress me how much time nurses are willing to invest in initiatives that they feel will benefit the wider community and improve things for their patients. Working on initiatives with peers can also be a way for nurses to boost their professional development. Seeking nurse input early and being realistic about time commitments is a good way to ensure that this important group of professionals has a stake in a communications strategy. Better to ask than overlook this important HCP audience.

Building strong relationships with nurses can pay dividends for a company’s reputation in the longer term, as several of our clients have seen with their own bespoke educational nurse programmes. Nurses are fantastically well placed to change things at the coal face. A trusted advisor to consultants; a barometer for patient behaviour and trends; a force for change in practice at a local level. If you want to get something done, ask a busy person. If you want to impact patient care, ask a nurse.