The Importance of Patient Education Programs

This year, GSK and the International Federation on Aging (IFA) joined forces to inaugurate Shingles Awareness Week. The reason behind this initiative is the lack of awareness about the disease among most Americans, which is a mistake that needs addressing. This lack of awareness is also true for many "silent diseases" like pancreatic cancer, hepatitis B, Lyme disease, and shingles. Proper attention can address and, in many cases, overcome the negative outcomes associated with these silent diseases.  But unfortunately, most Americans do not know what to do to about these conditions until it is too late.  It is important for American to learn more about these conditions earlier. 

Who Suffers from the "Silent Diseases?"

Consider each of these conditions.  1 in 3 Americans over the age of 50 suffer from this condition. As many as 2.2 million suffer from hepatitis B. And each year approximately 476,000 are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease. Diagnosis of these conditions often comes too late. Shingles poses a risk to nearly every American. The disease manifests with appalling symptoms, including fluid-filled blisters, burning, shooting pain, tingling, itching or numbness of the skin, chills, fever, headache, upset stomach, facial paralysis, problems with hearing and balance, and even loss of eyesight. Similarly, hepatitis B and Lyme disease also have serious potential consequences.

Is There A Solution?

Clearly, there must be a desire to avoid these outcomes. In fact, solutions are readily available to patients. Vaccines can be used to avoid hepatitis B (such as Recombivax HB) and shingles (#Shingrix). Lyme infections should receive immediate treatment with antibiotics. If these measure are taken, the patient will either avoid the condition entirely or the symptoms will be greatly reduced. However, these actions generally depend on patient awareness. Unfortunately, this is where a serious problem exists. Over 60% of the older population do not know they are at risk of getting shingles. Only 37% know about the risk of getting hepatitis B. And less than half of patients who are treated remember the tick bite or the rash that they must have experienced prior to diagnosis with Lyme disease.  These "silent diseases" creep up on patients.

How Does Patient Education Work?

"Silent diseases" often remain asymptomatic in patients until progression becomes unstoppable. While the medical community will contribute to fostering awareness, patient awareness campaigns play a crucial role in enabling early symptom recognition. Disease awareness months, sponsored for many significant "silent diseases," contribute to building this awareness. As part of its effort, GSK (maker of #Shingrix to treat shingles) is using a multi-media approach to catch the attention of the population. A video is designed to initiate interest in the vaccine. It candidly points out that, “No matter how healthy you feel, your risk of shingles increases sharply after the age of 50.” Translation: everybody is at risk. Go out and get vaccinated. It takes 15 minutes and it is 90% effective. Consider individuals carrying the HPV virus; approximately 80% of sexually active people carry this virus, potentially leading to life-threatening forms of cancer. Early-life vaccination, such as Gardasil 9, can prevent these cancers and save lives. The problem isn't stupidity or stubbornness; most individuals will get vaccinated if they grasp the benefits. The primary issue is awareness. This is where the work starts. We commend Pharma companies for aiding patient understanding of how to avoid these serious health issues.

How To Promote Patient Education

Like GSK, other pharma companies should take an active role in providing information to patients about treatment options.  This will benefit both the patient and the provider.  AIM has a strong track record working with clients to understand the patient pathway through education to treatment.  We investigate the proper communication approach, messages and triggers to provide insights that clients can act upon.