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DaVita Rx offered a pharmacy service to dialysis patients, and they had data that proved it decreased rates of both hospitalization and death. But the data didn’t persuade enough patients to enroll or enough clinic teams to encourage enrollment. That’s why DaVita Rx decided to start telling stories — and when they did, with our help, they finally reached their enrollment goal, and experienced 45% growth in revenue.

A Complex Set of Problems, Solved

DaVita operates 2,400+ dialysis treatment centers, serving 1.7+ million patients. For these patients, there are three keys to sustained health: regular dialysis, healthy diet and exercise, and medication adherence.

All are challenging, but medication adherence is critical — particularly since patients take an average of 21 pills a day. Yet many local pharmacies don’t keep the kidney-treatment pills and renal supplements that dialysis patients need in stock. And in any retail pharmacy environment, pharmacists must be generalists — which means they are rarely kidney-disease specialists.

That’s why DaVita created DaVita Rx — to meet the specific needs of dialysis patients. This new pharmacy would also link directly with physicians to decrease miscommunication, and be the bridge between patients and insurance companies, managing the confusing paperwork that often kept patients from getting their medications, and clearing the bureaucratic hurdles that drove up patient costs.

DaVita Rx was a sophisticated solution to a complex set of problems — and it worked.

An independent study of 50,000 DaVita dialysis patients, published by the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, found that DaVita patients who used DaVita Rx services had better clinical outcomes, including lower rates of both hospitalization and death.

So surely, hearing this data, every DaVita patient signed up, right?

Not exactly.

Resistance to Change

Many patients were reluctant to let go of their long-term relationships with the pharmacist down the street. The idea of giving that up for a pharmacist they would never see face-to-face was a little scary — even if the pharmacist on the other end of the line specialized in kidney care.

Plus, while the study results looked good on paper, most patients saw them as abstract statistics. How do I know DaVita Rx will help someone like me?

There was even pushback from those best equipped to really understand the data, who in theory were on the same team as DaVita Rx: the physicians, nurses, dietitians, and social workers who worked in DaVita clinics.

These clinic partners understood the benefits intellectually, but the DaVita Rx pharmacy hadn’t earned their trust. They worked face-to-face every day with patients battling diabetes, but DaVita Rx was a bunch of faceless voices on the other end of a phone line. Could they trust someone they had never met with the health of patients they had to be able to look in the eye?

The Data Was Not Enough

It seemed DaVita Rx was selling a service. But they were really selling something else: trust and behavior change.

In asking patients to switch, they were asking people taking 21 pills a day to change where they get those pills, how they get them, and who they get them from. They were asking people who need their meds to survive to trust someone they’d never met to keep them alive.

In asking clinicians to encourage patients to switch, they were asking people who rely on the trust of their patients to also trust a new model of pharmacy.

But with both audiences, the data was not enough.

Not Just Head, But Heart

The struggle to grow enrollment in the program pushed the DaVita Rx marketing team to think beyond just repeating the facts — because the facts had failed to persuade. Rather than speak to people’s heads, only louder this time, they felt it was time to speak to their hearts. It was time to tell a story.

We began with two stories, captured on film: ‘Karen’s Story,’ which told how DaVita Rx gave patient Karen Gilleland the freedom to work and travel, and ‘The Face of the Pharmacy,’ which showed how the people on the other end of the line in DaVita Rx’s massive pharmacy in Dallas feel about their role in patients’ lives.

The response, from patients, from clinicians, and even from DaVita Rx employees, was overwhelming. These stories put a human heart in the data. They gave patients the confidence to try the service, they gave clinicians the confidence to endorse the service, and they gave employees an energizing affirmation that the work they do was making a difference.

The power of these stories was even acknowledged by someone you might not expect to get excited about storytelling — DaVita Rx’s Vice President of Finance. “Wanted to send a quick note about the DaVita Rx video you created,” she wrote to Lynne Braggs, the Marketing Manager who worked with us on both films.

“We showed it at ‘homeroom’ [DaVita Rx’s all-hands meeting] on Friday and it was absolutely fabulous. I think videos like this are so hard to make without them being cheesy or contrived (sorry — hate to sound so cynical!), but this was just great. The speakers were genuine, compelling, and articulate and I loved the whole tone of it — look, feel, and even sound were all right on.

“I’m sure you’re getting a ton of positive feedback. Consider this another voice in the undoubtedly loud chorus — this video did a brilliant job of conveying who we are — professional coupled with a big dose of personality and unwavering dedication to our patients. Another bar raiser from the marketing team!”

But it wasn’t just a feel-good story — there were measurable business impacts as well, including hitting their target enrollment goal, and a 45% growth in revenue the year those films were released.

No doubt the VP of Finance was also pleased about that.

The ROI of Story

The positive feedback to this new approach to marketing, and its value to the bottom line, prompted DaVita Rx to keep investing in story. From 2012 through the company’s sale to Walgreens in 2018, we worked with DaVita Rx to tell stories of patients and clinic teammates who experienced the benefits of the service first-hand.

“As a part of marketing, I think it’s very important that we tell the story in a manner that people feel something from it,” said Tiffani Perry, DaVita Rx Senior Marketing Specialist. “And I think with the work that we’ve done with you, our internal teammates, as well as our external patients, I think they all feel something from it. So it makes them feel like doing something, feel like taking action.”

For patients, those stories communicate “that we understand what they’re going through, that we understand the struggle that they have with taking an average of 21 pills a day, that we understand the struggles from relationship building, from depression,” Tiffani said. Communicating that understanding is “extremely valuable,” and helps earn patient trust.

The relationship that evolved was also an asset. “A long-term relationship works from a strategic standpoint, simply because the more you work with us, the more you understand what we do, the more you understand our campaigns, and our programs,” Tiffani said. “Sometimes I feel like you don’t even have to interview people, because you just know. You know what it is our pharmacists do; you know what it is our departments do. It just clicks. I think it’s extremely important.”