By Phil Storer, as published in PM360, April 8, 2023

The way we live—and the way patients live—requires that we pay special attention to personal human interaction. […] As we plan our patient engagement strategies for the coming years, in-person interactions must be central to our vision. Here’s why.

Productivity and Serendipity

For one, it’s obvious that when humans share the same time and space, people are guaranteed to achieve more meeting objectives in a shorter amount of time than if they send emails back and forth. As a presenter, you have a captive audience and can more easily keep distractions under control. In an online setting, you may get one hour of active engagement, but it is unlikely that you can collaborate effectively throughout an entire day. And you definitely won’t have any useful exchanges over lunch. However, once people make the commitment to travel out of town for the purpose of a meeting, you know that they’re physically and mentally present. So from a productivity point of view, it’s not even a contest.

And productivity isn’t the only draw. How many of your initiatives, friendships, business decisions, and creative ideas are the result of serendipitous connections? […] Ideas that really move the needle aren’t willed into existence. They usually begin over a meal or during a coffee break. Follow the agenda and do business; have a chat and change the world.

Mental Health

[…] If you consider that our psychological and hormonal balance is, to a large extent, connected to physical social interaction, it should give us pause that our post-pandemic lives present us with fewer and fewer opportunities to connect face to face.

Many health conditions contribute to social isolation, so that deficit is even greater among patients who may not be able to go places as often or as freely as the rest of us. In short: Providing opportunities for social interaction is patient centric. Live events provide opportunities for friendship and community and contribute to physical and mental well-being.

Of course, the success of in-person interactions depends to a large extent on the skill and experience of the facilitator. In a famous 1967 study, UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that up to 93% of in-person communication is nonverbal. Given this, it’s obvious facilitators must be able to read body language, tone, and facial expressions to pick up on any signals that participants may be sending. At the same time, they need to make sure that their own “audio” matches their “video,” i.e., their body language has to align with whatever they’re conveying verbally. An excessive reliance on virtual communication erodes those skills.


Patient engagement is about building trust. How do you build trust? After two decades of building relationships with our patient communities, we know the answer: Trust hinges on showing commitment. How big of a commitment is it really to hold a Zoom meeting? Contrast this with an invitation to get to know each other and figure out the future of patient-industry cocreation together.

When designing patient engagement events and summits, you must keep the patient experience at the center. It is imperative that you consider patient-friendly accommodations and agendas and events that are attuned to patient wellness and stamina, dietary restrictions, and any limitations in mobility or vision. You build trust with patients by walking the talk.

Trust goes both ways. Patients will trust you more when you show more commitment, but you also demonstrate that you trust patients when you give them space to forge connections with one another. […]

While digital solutions have revolutionized the way we communicate and engage with patients, they should not be viewed as a replacement for in-person interactions. The benefits of in-person meetings, such as increased productivity, serendipitous connections, human psychological balance, trust building, patient insights, community building, and advocacy, are too valuable to be ignored.

Biopharma companies that prioritize in-person patient engagement, supported by digital and social channels, will be better positioned to meet the needs of patients and thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape. Let’s bring back the power of in-person meetings and create meaningful connections. [Read the entire article at PM360]