Patients’ Week 2011: Perfecting the patient experience

We’ve already got customer effectiveness and sales force effectiveness. Andrew Tolve reports on why now is the time for patient effectiveness

When it comes to taking drugs, patients exhibit an array of behaviors. Some are proactive, others skeptical, still others confident, concerned, confused, or resigned.

Pharma has traditionally taken an apathetic approach to these emotions, focusing instead on developing good drugs and then convincing physicians of their value—and letting the patient segment figure itself out on the back end.

But as pharma confronts unparalleled challenges, with fewer blockbuster drugs in their pipelines and more competition for existing drugs in the marketplace, companies are reexamining their relationships with all stakeholders, including patients.

“Understanding the dynamic of patients has become just as important as understanding the dynamics of payers and buyers,” argues Di Stafford, founding director of The Patient Practice, a consultancy specializing in patient marketing and relationship management.

In Stafford’s opinion, if companies can embrace patients in a personalized way, identify their individual needs, and address them with targeted resources, they can build a sense of value and commitment and, as a result, maximize a brand’s potential.

“There’s so much conversation in pharma these days about customer effectiveness and sales force effectiveness,” she says. “It’s time we talk about patient effectiveness. Measuring and optimizing the patient experience is critical for pharma moving forward.”


Mapping the patient journey


Stafford concedes that the phrase “patient effectiveness” (one she coined) may sound “cold and calculating” when it comes to patient outreach, which is supposed to be “caring and warm.”

Then again, she says, pharma must realize that everything it does to court patients, improve their experience, and ensure their loyalty must be done in a measured, mutually beneficial way.

“The classic definition of marketing is meeting customer needs,” says Stafford. “That’s what we need to do here: identify people’s needs and meet them as effectively as we can.”

Patient segmentation is a good place to start. Despite the range of behaviors and attitudes that patients demonstrate, they generally follow predictable trajectories through their diseases.

A new suite of statistical analyses makes it possible to pinpoint where people lie on those trajectories and measure how engaged they are at each stage.

One such analysis, the Patient Activation Meter, presents patients with a short questionnaire, and their answers translate into an activation score on a scale of 0 to 100.

With such tools, pharma can strategically target those patients who need support and refrain from those who are enthusiastic, proactive self-managers.

“Some patients don’t need your help,” says Stafford. “A dollar spent against those people doesn’t have the same impact as a dollar spent against someone who can’t understand the information packet.”


Measuring pharma’s performance


To foster an effective relationship with patients, pharma also needs to be bring a more measured, scrutinizing eye to its own functions. How are patients reacting to a brand? What do they like? What do they abhor?

“Companies need to measure themselves on this as well,” says Stafford. “If they’re not measured, they’re not managed and they’re not important to people.”

Packaging is an often-overlooked area where pharma generally has room for improvement.

In Europe, non-profits like the Healthcare Compliance Packaging Council award companies for innovative packaging that helps patients take medicines as prescribed. (For more on packaging, see ‘Packaging as a marketing and compliance tool’.)

“If you really examine how patients access your product, you’ll likely find them discarding important information or finding it difficult to use,” says Stafford. “These problems often can be easily addressed by assessing and changing packaging.”

Another area where pharma can take a more measured approach is in social media.

Many companies have created their own Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, and forums; for the most part, patients have demonstrated little interest.

On the other hand, patients have proven eager to participate in their own networks.

Rather than try to “drag them kicking and screaming” to a different site, go to where they’re at and study what they’re saying.

“We have a means to find out what patients really think in a way that we never had before,” says Stafford. “Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to listen in on the patient conversation.” (For more on social media, see ‘Pharma marketing and social media: Don’t wait for the FDA’ and ‘Pharma and social media: How to add value’.)

Researching that conversation and analyzing what patients are saying can provide invaluable insights as to where brands need improvement, from language and wording to packaging and adverse event reporting.

“It’s time for pharma to take a long, hard look at itself and its internal organization,” says Stafford. “Perhaps you have a customer effectiveness manager or even department, but does that extend to ‘patient effectiveness’?  It probably should.” (For more from Di Stafford, see ‘It's time for patient power to get real’, ‘Compliance and social marketing: a new opportunity for collaboration’, and ‘When it comes to adherence, patients just wanna to have fun’.)

For everything patient-related, join the sector’s other key players at Patient Adherence, Communication and Engagement (PACE) USA on October 24-25 in Philadelphia. Download the full PACE agenda and speaker line-up here.  Want to know more? Contact

To read our Patients’ Week stories from 2010, see Patients’ Week 2010.

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