By Dr. Ammar Raza, Country Medical Director, Allergan
The way businesses are being run is changing. We can witness this change in every sector and every field and Healthcare is not an exception. We in healthcare are in the midst of a revolution: a move toward ‘patient-centeric’ care. One of the prime cogs in the healthcare sector is the pharmaceutical industry. The pharma industry discovers, develops, manufactures, and markets products that help manage diseases. The ultimate beneficiary of this is the patient, sometimes referred to as the consumer.
While a patient centric approach is desirable, it isn’t as simple as the medicines are prescribed by health care professionals with whom the industry primarily works. Traditionally, the industry maintains an arm’s length relationship with the patient due to regulatory constraints. Putting patients at the heart of everything has been an idea which the pharmaceutical industry has been toying with for some time now.
However, the question is, how close are we? What is facilitating this approach in today’s age of technology everywhere? What more can be done and what are the challenges to this approach? Patient centricity in marketing is great but how about in clinical development? This article will try to address some of these questions.
A New Health Economy
As consumers become more and more engaged in their own healthcare decision-making, they are more likely to seek newer solutions, tools, and information that help them focus on quality, costs, and convenience.
For the industry, empowering patients to make their own informed choices by providing credible information is an opportunity. This helps in two ways: patients will have greater control over their health and will show greater adherence to their therapy.
To truly make a difference for patients, companies need to shift from a medicine- or physician-focused approach to a patient-centric approach.
What is patient centricity?
I do suppose that a basic definition of ‘patient centricity’ is required. If I had to define it, I would say that ‘Patient centricity’ is the process of designing a service or solution around the patient.
This is more than just simply gaining insights from patients; it also includes a focus on meeting patients’ needs and translating the insights to products that improve outcomes.
There have been different interpretations of the term and not all players agree on the definition. However, the consensus is that the patient becomes the most important variable in the equation.
Is this an indication of patients moving from consumers to active players?
Traditionally, patients have followed their physicians’ orders implicitly.
As consumers become more and more engaged in their own healthcare decision-making, they are more likely to seek newer solutions, tools, and information that help them focus on quality, costs, and convenience
Now, there is active dialogue between them. Patients now want to be active players and informed decision makers in their own treatments.
What role do patients play in this approach?
In today’s data rich world, patients need and want to have easy access to their personal healthcare data. Technology now enables patients to upload, store, and manage their own healthcare data and to share across various studies or doctor offices. Today’s consumer is more likely to turn to friends, experts, and technology to gather information. Given the proliferation of the internet and access to peer experiences, social media and basic internet searches have become a part of ‘first aid’.
So, the question that we face is how to access this ‘new voice of the patient’? Harnessing big data and making it usable will be critical in allowing consumers and the industry to understand their health and the factors that are impacting their health.
Patient-centred research should prioritize patients’ un-met needs and their live experience with disease. It is critical to gain a deep understanding of the patient experience and their condition across different patient types and demographic groups, and then using these insights to inform and shift the company’s culture to produce products and solutions that really work for patients and address their various needs.
The industry is attempting to connect with patients directly to learn what symptoms most affect their quality of life and how they measure improvement. Many insights can be gained by asking patients what they want and by closely observing how they use current treatments.
Focus on personalized or precision medicine, will compel the industry to put the patient at the centre of care and drug development. Biopharmaceutical companies have begun to explore ways to integrate the patient voice in clinical trial design, but they need to engage with patients long before the commercialization stage. Another aspect is use of patient-reported outcomes (PROs) in research which the industry is embracing at a steady pace.
Marketing to a New Patient Consumer
Marketers need to know more than what decisions patients are making; they also need to know why they make the decisions that they do, and this is frequently the missing piece in research. The industries’ marketing efforts need to start with patient journeys, their perspectives, and the insights that drive their attitudes and behaviours regarding pharma brands.
There is a need to move from considering the patients as one more influencer on the prescribing habits of physiciansto patients at the center of care. As patients become more active participants in their own healthcare, marketers will need to be much more strategic in how, where, and when to reach patients.The key is to gain consumers’ attention when they are thinking about their healthcare
Challenges of a Patient-Centric Approach
One of the challenges to taking a patient-centric approach is how does the industry engage with patients within a highly regulated environment. This will perhaps be the most fascinating trend and value proposition for the industry overall. There are other challenges such as mindset change, resource limitations, management support, sometimes scientists and doctors consider that patient input is subjective and non-reproducible.