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HCP behaviour change: theory vs. practice

11/04/17 07:30
COUCH Medcomms



Many of the HCP behaviour change programmes designed today fall short of the mark. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of research and expertise put into their design. Rather, the purpose is to point out that innovation is lacking and, often, the focus is on the message, when it should ideally be grounded in HCP behaviour change theory.

To boldly go

We need a bolder approach if we’re to address the issues in human behaviour that play such a large part in many of the leading causes of death all over the world. Behaviour change programmes designed for the patient are doing their part, but as our approach to medicine, clinical treatment, drug development and prescribing practices change, there must also be a corresponding change in the ways health care providers behave.

This is important for patients, but it’s also important for pharma if they’re to wield greater influence, persuade payers to choose their drugs over those of their competitors, ensure HCPs are aware of them and know how (and when) to use them.

And it’s here we find the disconnect. Pharma is finding it harder to capture HCP engagement, yet faces growing pressure to play a greater role in improving healthcare.

Despite work on behaviour change interventions, what we often find in the real world are the same practices we have seen many times before: Websites presenting information, symposia and exhibition stands at conferences, data presentations etc. While having a role in information sharing, their strength lies primarily in the function of getting a message across.

The strength in theory-based interventions

If pharma created behaviour change interventions, for HCPs, rooted in theory, we would see an entirely different approach:

  • Interventions could be more closely targeted by understanding the antecedents of behaviour and the causal determinants of change.
  • Investigating the theoretically identified mediators can help us understand how the intervention works to bring about change.
  • It is possible to draw on cumulative theoretical knowledge that describes how to change behaviour in differing contexts.
  • There is greater scope to measure the effectiveness of an intervention, through testing.

By basing HCP behaviour change interventions on accumulated theoretical knowledge regarding how people behave, why they behave in certain ways, what is needed to persuade them to change, pharma can begin wielding greater influence on those who make purchasing decisions. 

Choosing the right theory

It’s vitally important to understand behaviours and the contexts they exist in to create interventions that are effective and evidence-based, and it’s equally important to know which theory is appropriate. Not all behavioural theories are relevant when we’re designing interventions to target specific behavioural aspects.

  • Often, links between theoretical constructs and behaviour change techniques are absent.
  • Even when theoretical constructs together with techniques are targeted, important constructs are missed.

These two areas of disconnect between theory and technique may also explain why some interventions fail. Human behaviour is a complex matter, and we don’t always behave in logical or practical ways. Instinctive, habitual or emotional behaviours, for instance, won’t necessarily be changed by creating interventions that depend on theories based in reflective thought processes.

Specialist interventions demand specialised knowledge

For pharma to deliver effective HCP behaviour change programmes, it needs to work with the right kind of specialist who understands which theory to draw on to bring about the required change.

This is why the HCP behaviour change programmes designed by COUCH are so effective. We have a highly specialised, multidisciplinary team that includes health psychologists, researchers and medical communications strategists. Working together, COUCH-designed programmes are not only rooted in current behavioural theory but, most importantly, they are effective and measurable.


HCP engagement


Topics: Behaviour Change, HCP engagement

COUCH Medcomms

At the risk of sounding too pretentious, at COUCH we consider ourselves storytellers first and foremost. And we are passionate in championing this approach to medical communications.

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