To get the full picture ethnographic specialists Naked Eye and healthcare agency VCCP are treating patients as individuals

For leading healthcare organisations, communicating engaging stories to their employees about the impact of a disease on people’s lives is crucial to delivering on their organisational purpose.

Too often companies, however, compartmentalise learning into ‘patient personas’ – neat, faceless, logical data segments supported by generic images, numbers and statistics.

While this data has some value, it misses the bigger opportunity – to connect teams to the human experience and understand the complexities of living with the burden of a disease. It is this that motivates and inspires employees to connect to the experiences of the people the organisation exists to serve.

Living with breathlessness

The causes of an asthma attack and the burden of living with COPD are unique to every individual. Both are unpredictable. The range of symptoms makes it difficult for many people to describe the impact of the disease. Having severe asthma or COPD affects almost every part of their lives including their mental health and well-being.

A global biopharmaceutical company has been developing medicines to treat respiratory disease for more than 30 years. For the business, communicating this impact to its team is a critical part of its mission. The sales and marketing team in the business were clear that ‘patient personas’ were not going to be a compelling way to inspire its workforce to think about people’s real lives.

Working with the VCCP Health team and ethnographic specialists Naked Eye, an immersive observational study using documentary filmmaking was organised to gain a closer understanding about the reality of living with these two different conditions.

Ethnographers recorded the lives of two people that experienced some of the challenges the company needed its medical, marketing and sales teams to learn from.

Life through a human lens

Chloe is a 27-year-old professional living with her boyfriend in Swindon. She works in the construction sector. What many people don’t know is that if Chloe leaves her house without an inhaler, it triggers a feeling of panic, which in turn triggers an asthma attack.

Chloe has experienced this in public and in front of her colleagues at the office. Although she was diagnosed as a child, she feels she was never given advice on how to control her condition.

Meanwhile, in a suburb in East of London ethnographers spent time with Linda, a 60-year-old retired teacher living with COPD. We witnessed the crashing fatigue COPD had on her life, the impact of breathlessness walking up a short flight of steps at her home, how speaking to friends caused her breathlessness and her fear of having to resort to using oxygen tubes to support her breathing.

All of these stories were captured on film with the editing phase bringing the client team, VCCP Health and the Naked Eye team together. Themes around unpredictability and the life-threatening impact of breathlessness were developed.

The stories have been embedded in their organisation providing a human lens for their medical, marketing and sales teams to better connect with people’s real-life experiences. The Marketing team explained the difference, “The language and feeling has changed - we speak about Chloe and Linda as if they had just been with us in the room and for us that change has made the difference.”

Nick Leon is the founder of ethnographic research and filmmaking agency Naked Eye.
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