One of the most powerful ideas to emerge in recent years is continuity of care in medicine. It’s an answer to the potential harm that can come from a fragmented medical system, one in which multiple practitioners act independently and episodically on an individual patient without regard for quality of care over time.

In its definition of the term, the American Academy of Family Physicians writes,

“Continuity of care is rooted in a long-term patient-physician partnership in which the physician knows the patient’s history from experience and can integrate new information and decisions from a whole-person perspective efficiently without extensive investigation or record review.” AAFP

Isn’t it about time the value of this concept was recognized in the relationships pharma companies have with their service agencies (such as medical education companies)?

Over the years, I’ve seen pharma increasingly adopt a ‘changing-horses-in-midstream’ approach when it comes to assigning work on its brands. Much to the frustration of brand management teams, it seems to matter little to strategic sourcing and executive management people how well an agency handled a prior assignment. Instead, it’s whose pitch has the price that’s right. The idea of an ‘agency of record’ often falls by the wayside, displaced by endless rounds of competitive pitches for each individual assignment.

While competition can drive down prices, too much of it results in confusion, inefficiency, and mismanagement that harms brands. Changing agencies often results in a form of “corporate amnesia”: valuable knowledge accumulated by the prior team vanishes, replaced by inexperience, naïveté, and delays as the new team climbs the learning curve. Frustration, delays and strategic missteps are just a few of the hidden costs of discontinuity.

If such frequent changes in assignments happened in medicine, each hospitalized patient would be in peril with every change of shift. Instead, medicine takes measures to ensure continuity, through documentation, collaboration, and (most of all) the continuity that comes via an ongoing provider-patient relationship. In medicine, such long-term relationships have proved to literally have life-changing consequences. When your health is under this kind of stewardship, it has the best chance to succeed.

Given a chance, medical communications agencies will provide continuity of care for brands that improve their successes, too. I’ve seen the greatest results occur in medical education efforts when the working relationship is a long-lasting partnership between a client and a committed agency account handler. Some of these relationships have spanned several decades.

I’m talking here not about preferred-vendor arrangements clients ink with huge holding companies, but instead about the personal bonds that form between clients and their agency counterparts. Too often, price concessions made by networks to secure preferred-vendor deals have squeezed their agencies so tightly that they can afford to staff accounts only with their least experienced people. Such economic lids force people seeking career growth out of their agencies, taking their brand knowledge with them.

Instead, I’m talking about real commitment to partnership between the people who run the brand and the people who run the account. That includes a willingness to ride out together any bumps in the relationship while they’re being worked out,  recognition and appreciation of the value the agency people bring (which powerfully cements their loyalty to the client), and the spine with which to push back on aggressive but short-sighted pressure from strategic sourcing.

Just as medicine has, our world of medical communications has evolved in complexity and fragmentation. New channels abound as information-consumption behaviors change. Myriad choices face today’s medical communicator. Making the smart ones is harder than ever. In the midst of all this change—most of it for the good of the brands and the patients they help—let’s keep our relationships from changing too much, too often.

About the Author:

Wendy Balter is President of the Cadent Medical Communications agency specializing in the integration of multichannel planning, clinically driven scientific strategy and flawless execution of medical education programs.