Tackle social determinants of health via data and community engagement

Social determinants of health can blur the safety and efficacy profiles of therapies, making it critical for the pharmaceutical industry to find ways to ease healthcare barriers.

Pharma companies should collect and analyze data that can further inform the industry on health disparities within minority communities. Insights can help educate HCPs on inequalities to empower them to take action. As an example, the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions in darker skin tones can be improved by better research and education among HCPs. Heightened awareness of disparities can increase patient-centricity and tailored medical interventions.  

Clinical trial data can be used to improve real-world patient outcomes. Disaggregation of data is critical, noted Pfizer's Melissa Bishop-Murphy. Clinical trial data should be teased into smaller units to discover underlying trends that can improve patient outcomes. Clinical trials, on top of collecting data on race, gender and ethnicity, should also record information on socioeconomic factors such as income and healthcare access, because all these variables influence health outcomes.  

Beyond clinical trials, pharma companies should also gather qualitative and quantitative data on people at risk of disease as well as patients who have recovered from illness. Increasing the sector’s knowledge of health disparities in the wider community allows the industry to understand the extent of disparities, how to build improvement efforts and monitor progress in addressing inequities.  

Indeed, social determinants of health should be part of patient care, particularly for minority groups, noted Healthcare Consultancy Group’s Luke Cole. Mapping social determinants based on data on nutrition, access to care, transformation services, insurance coverage, among others, would enable pharma companies to develop medical interventions holistically. Data is available from multiple sources, so data integration from internal and third-party sources is key. 

Based on data insights, pharma companies can play a role in educating HCPs on social determinants of health. When developing educational content, it should be in modules with each module targeted at addressing a specific health disparity measure. The materials should contextualize social determinants and outline how specific factors influence health conditions. Educational materials should also include community-generated content and be updatable to meet the changing needs of clinicians and their patients, Cole noted.  

Clinical trial staff should include individuals from diverse backgrounds, from drug development to leadership positions. A knowledgeable and inclusive workforce in both clinical and nonclinical departments of pharma companies can boost empathy towards communities with health disparities. Companies should increase diversity in their respective advisory panels. 

Working with minority communities, including faith and multicultural groups, would be a valuable channel for the pharma industry to understand how best to support these communities. Such collaboration can be used to help people navigate the complexities of the healthcare system, as well as for the industry to address stigmas associated with certain diseases and medical approaches.  

Such a relationship-building approach can help build trust. In fact, on top of allowing the pharma sector to improve its therapeutic pipeline development plans, it can also be a way to show people in minority communities that a career in the pharma sector is worthwhile. Pharma companies can establish scholarships or grants to ease barriers to training.  

As AstraZeneca’s Camille Hertzka described it: the pharma industry should adopt a tailored, local approach, shifting its medical affairs strategy focusing on academics to one that zeroes in on communities.  


Industry Experts Who Contributed:  

  • Camille Hertzka, VP, Head of Oncology, US Medical, AstraZeneca 
  • Melissa Bishop-Murphy, Senior Director, Co-Chair of Multicultural Centre of Excellence, Pfizer 
  • Shirley Sylvester, (formerly) Senior Director, Women’s Health, Johnson & Johnson 
  • Ruthline Laylor, Executive Director, Medical and Scientific Services, Chameleon 
  • Dr Victoria Malek Pascha, (formerly) Senior Consultant, Global Market Access and Value Evidence, Lumen Value & Access 
  • Luke Cole, SVP, Group Director, Digital Strategy, Healthcare Consultancy Group 
  • Moderator: Matt D’Auria, CEO, Healthcare Consultancy Group 


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