Written by Donna Hui on November 4, 2015
in Events, Healthcare Marketing

Recently, I attended the eyeforpharma Patient Summit in Philadelphia to connect with industry leaders committed to moving the needle on the topic of “patient centricity” and what this means in real terms for pharma brands. The conference was well attended by pharma marketers, clinicians, patient advocacy groups and marketing consultants, all with the intent of finding better solutions to help patients.

Pharma has progressed over the past decade or so. For the most part, they no longer treat patients like ‘subject matter’ and have made an effort to seek direct input from patients along the spectrum from clinical trial development to producing educational information. The question now is, is it enough? Or should pharma be doing more to stay relevant as the overall healthcare industry shifts?

Here’s a short summary of what I learned at the Patient Summit:

The good news. There’s big intent from pharma to become more patient-centric. Positions at the C-suite level, such as Global Patient Advocacy Relations or Chief Patient Officer, are being established to elevate and represent the perspective of the patient and better prioritize their needs. As well, although this Patient Summit is industry driven, the number of patient advocacy groups asked to attend and present is an indication of pharma wanting to learn and change.

The not-so-good news. Despite all good intentions, pharma is still struggling with HOW this change to patient centricity should come about. What does it look like? I spoke with numerous marketers who admitted that the blueprint is still not there and at times, patient-centricity is a box that “needs to be checked off”, rather than an everyday practice in brand planning and management. In fact, one pharma marketer expressed frustration at having to show traditional ROI to senior management just weeks after a campaign launch for a chronic condition that requires months for a patient to navigate through – a clear sign that the complete patient experience was not being taken into account at the highest levels of the organization.

The future: what can pharma do to move the needle?

Partner with patients and their caregivers, early on and throughout. It’s the most obvious shift in thinking and action, but we’ve heard from patients at the conference as well as through Ariad Health’s work: “We’re not a science project. We’re not on a journey. We [patients] need to sit down with pharma and collaborate in order to advance medicine.” Patients are tired of waiting. Some of the most sophisticated, yet practical solutions are not pharma-led – they are patient led-to fill a gap (IE: Patient Navigator) or created by patients collaborating with industry (IE: Patients Like Me).

Understand that the business needs revolve around the patient experience, and not the other way around. Pharma marketers have a tendency to carve out a simple journey assuming that patients follow a linear path. And yet we know from working with patients and caregivers that it’s a complex path, fraught with obstacles, definitely not linear, and most importantly, it’s not a destination where patients want to arrive. Marketers won’t be able to connect with, communicate to, or realize why patients aren’t on their product until they see the delta between the patient journey and the true patient experience (as demonstrated in this Ariad Health Diabetes case study).

Deconstruct protocols and rebuild with the patient in mind. Pharma has to tear down their own ‘protective bumpers’ (IE: legal and compliance rules) and construct new regulations in order to deliver real solutions to patients, rather than scaring them away. As well, folks working in legal and compliance should be attending such Patient Summits or patient conferences to gain exposure and education from a patient’s perspective.

Establish business objectives and measures to reflect value for the patient. It might not be just about the ROI, but the ROR (return-on-relationships). From a company perspective, pharma could set targets for each functional unit (IE: attendance at patient conferences, patient and rep ride-alongs, etc.). From a brand perspective, have patients rate the experience of your on-boarding program and more importantly, measure the time it takes to get them on-boarded; determine the number of patients on your product pre- and post-participation in sponsored events; or perhaps even assess the number of patients you’ve helped to connect with the right doctors.

Lastly, this may be an obvious point but bears repeating: patients are living in the age of consumerism. Not only are patients playing the part of ‘Dr. Google’, they also have high expectations based on their experiences with other industries that have outpaced pharma in providing both service and value to demanding customers. To wit: there are more tools and incentives to help customers purchase their daily coffee than there is support and service for patients who have a chronic condition.

That doesn’t seem right to me. How about you? What are you doing for your brand to keep moving forward into true patient centricity? Give me a ring if you’d like to chat, or hear more about what I learned at the Patient Summit.

Donna Hui is a Senior Account Director at Ariad Health.

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