Patient centricity is transforming the life sciences industry today. The industry has recognized the importance of patient involvement in healthcare-related decision-making, incorporation of the patient perspective in the process of drug development and approval, and the need for patient participation in personalized therapy. However, there is no common definition of patient centricity in the industry. The elements and parameters of success that are instrumental in delivering patient value are still not clear.

In such a scenario, some key strategies that will help the industry sharpen its patient-centricity focus are

  1. Identify and operationalize patient centricity aims, objectives, and processes and set goals
  2. Track progress toward goals, such as a broader disease state understanding or patients getting faster access to treatment
  3. Make use of digital tools to engage patients and improve their experience, and tap into data analytics for data on patient outcomes and unmet patient needs
  4. Collaborate more deeply within the industry and outside, with advocacy groups, etc. and learn lessons from other industries that are doing well in customer-centricity, e.g., consumer and retail technology sectors

Below are examples of how some pharma and biotech companies have demonstrated patient centricity through various initiatives, using some of these strategies.

Using social media listening to advance patient centricity

  • A pharma company collaborated with a creative communications agency that specializes in health and wellness, to work on a social listening program. The company plans to develop a new drug with a new mechanism of action. During the program, the pharma company realized that they could use the information gained from understanding patients’ perspectives and experience of a condition to bridge the gap between their own marketing team, medical affairs team, the HCPs they were targeting, and the patients suffering from the specific condition as the end user.
  • Another instance of a successful customer-centric strategy was when a pharma company used social media to gather as well as disseminate information, for a campaign on a nutritional supplement. First, LinkedIn surveys were sent out to dietitians, to identify challenges they faced while prescribing the supplement. Ultimately, the pharma company published a set of educational videos on YouTube and Vimeo to help overcome these challenges.
  • In one instance, with the help of postings on Facebook, GSK was able to recall an OTC drug in the Australian market because it had a manufacturing defect. Moreover, Greg Powell, Director of Pharmacovigilance at GSK, mentioned at the Health 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, California, that there are more discussions about adverse events on social media in a single year than there have been in the FDA database since its inception in 1968. Patients also discuss adverse events of drugs in the context of benefits and compare the drug with other available drugs and treatment options.
  • Another very interesting and noteworthy case was when GSK found out—via tracking of online discussions on 3 websites—that people are actually discussing ways to abuse their drugs safely to get maximum intoxication out of them. They were also sharing this information in online abuse communities. The company couldn’t have found this information anywhere else.
  • Merck, for example, conducted a portion of their pre-market research for an insomnia drug on social media. They found that patients tell their doctors that the prescribed medication is working even when they continue to have sleep problems. The issue here was that the existing drugs became less effective with time, and although they were useful for falling asleep, they did not help patients get back to sleep after they woke up in the middle of the night. This vital detail helped Merck develop an accurate value proposition and marketing angle for their new insomnia medication, and work toward developing a drug that would help patients sleep well all night.

Determining patient preferences using a patient preference study

  • A biopharma company conducted a patient preference study to determine the opinions and preferences of patients and physicians regarding the desired outcomes of treatment with a drug. While physicians regarded being “pain free” as the most important response, patients mentioned that headache relief, rapid relief, and sustained response were more realistic and achievable outcomes. This result helped the company clarify its benefit-risk assessment approach.

Partnering with patient advocacy groups

  • The partnership between a biotech company and a patient advocacy group involved a Q&A session including physicians and patients suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare condition. Through this interaction with patients, the research group realized that while they had focused on monitoring the white blood cell count, the patients’ priority was to stop itching so they could sleep well at night. The insights from this study were later successfully used to fast-track approval for the first disease-modifying therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Using digital solutions to listen to patients

  • The research team of a biopharma company once provided wearables to a group of patients to gather data on their passive movement. The researchers assumed that a patient was suffering from fewer symptoms and feeling better if more movement was recorded. Interestingly, one of the patients was a writer, and she informed the team that she was able to sit at her computer desk and write when she was feeling better. Without this critical self-reported piece of information, the research team may have concluded that inactivity indicated a poorer outcome.

In conclusion, patients are the most important stakeholders in pharma and healthcare, as they donate personal clinical data, benefit the most from the knowledge gained from clinical studies, and are the ultimate consumers of pharmaceutical and healthcare products. Therefore, gaining the trust of patients, listening to them, understanding their journey, and improving their experience are crucial factors to achieve better and stronger health outcomes. After all, isn’t that why we are in healthcare?

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About the author

Kwisha Shah
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Kwisha Shah is Marketing Content Manager, Thought Leadership, at Cactus Life Sciences.