A Shared Purpose: 6 Ways to Draw Pharma Together
Despite being a competitive industry, pharma needs collaboration to achieve its shared purpose of patient centricity.
Pharma has experienced extensive reputational challenges in recent years. A 2014 PatientView survey of 1,150 patient groups found that only 39% viewed pharma as having either a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ corporate reputation. This constituted a decline from the results of previous years.
Incidents of unfair marketing practices and pricing have contributed to this decline. The decision-making of healthcare professionals has also traditionally been viewed as somewhat commercially motivated. This raises the questions: Do pharmaceutical companies and physicians really have the patient’s best interests at heart? Can and should patients fully trust them?
Thanks to the Internet’s democratization of information, this line of questioning is becoming increasingly prevalent. “Today, there is much better distribution of information because of its availability everywhere, and instantaneously, on the Internet,” observes Roslyn Schneider, Global Patient Affairs Lead at Pfizer. “You have more informed patients and communities who are actually demanding to be a part of this process.”
Indeed, modern patients are hungry for facts. They are seeking value and alternative options, demanding engagement, and driving major changes that could potentially fragment the industry. Subsequently, pharma needs to take the necessary steps to ‘pull itself together’ – and here’s how.
1. Let go of old rules
Pharma needs to leave the traditional paternal style of doing business behind, the alternative being to remain within a cloud of negative perception. According to Schneider, whose key role in Pfizer is to ensure that the organization systematically puts the patient first, “It’s hard to accept that you can listen in a different way to people who are living with an illness. But certainly, what I saw in my practice, and what scientists and healthcare professionals learn when they do take the time to listen, is that you do learn things that are extraordinarily important to ensure that we are not only doing things correctly, but also doing the things that are most important to the people that we are committed to serve.” She adds, “It’s a change, and change is hard. It’s hard to listen in these new ways, but it’s something we all need to work through.”
2. Discover pharma’s shared purpose
The questions pharma must ask are: What core purpose should be shared to prevent fragmentation of the industry? What is the core problem that pharma is grappling with? Is it a matter of fixing reputation? Of boosting research and scientific innovation? Or, is it about making bigger contributions to patient groups?
Based on the PatientView survey, brands are reputable for different reasons such as having a good record in patient safety, producing high quality products, or providing excellent patient information. In particular areas, some brands do well, while others don't. However, each company can still be afflicted with the negative perception of the industry. Even the most technologically innovative and generous companies still need to deal with the patient’s lack of trust.
Pharma, therefore, needs to solve a core problem and serve a shared purpose that can improve the reputation of the industry and the patient’s level of trust as a whole. According to Schneider, “The reason that most people work in healthcare is because we want to do the right thing for patients in a way that the patients, carers and community would feel is the right thing for them.”
The ‘right thing for patients’ means operating from a patient-centric standpoint, which is about making care decisions with the needs of the patient as the top priority. Schneider refers to patient centricity as an opportunity for pharma companies and health providers to “recommit” to the industry’s mission, which is to deliver innovative medicines and interventions to patients that will significantly improve their lives.
Life Sciences and Healthcare Expert at the PA Consulting Group, Alasdair Mackintosh, sees it the same way.“With patient centricity, the industry has the opportunity to deliver greater value to society, ease the burden on stressed healthcare systems, and earn a higher level of trust,” he says.
3. View patient centricity as everyone’s job
Patient centricity shouldn’t be viewed as a marketing tool for competitive advantage, but something that will elevate the industry as a whole - where everyone benefits. According to Mackintosh, “To deliver patient-centric benefits, companies typically need to create enhanced offerings that may include product, service, device and diagnostic components.”
Additionally, patient centricity can increase the ‘pie’ that is available to pharma and patients. “Although gaining competitive advantage is a clear motive for innovation, new service propositions that can, for example, improve patient adherence to treatment, can also increase the ‘size of the pie,’” explains Mackintosh.
Patient centricity should be every player’s responsibility and every patient’s right. Many players are already seeing the need for change.“Many companies across the pharmaceutical industry are in the process of transitioning from a traditional model centered on product marketing to a new model focused on delivering health outcomes,” observes Mackintosh.
4. Trust, teach and learn from others
Shifting towards a more patient-centric business model is challenging. “New propositions which require redesign of patient pathways create disruptive change within provider organizations. Sources of real world data to provide evidence of the outcomes achieved can also be a constraint,” Mackintosh explains.
However, viewing patients as market portions that must be accumulated will always make companies see competitors, or other health organizations with their own influence on patients, as threats to their business. Working from a threatened position makes the required culture shift all the more challenging.
It’s important to trust other companies by learning from them. “While industry associations such as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) can help create alignment, the pharmaceutical sector is an industry of ‘fast followers.’ Innovations by individual players are often replicated rapidly by others,” says Mackintosh.
Trusting others can also mean consciously setting a good example. “Players should publicize their successes,” suggests Mackintosh. Setting an example for patient centricity is a way to give other firms the opportunity to determine how they can align themselves with pharma’s shared purpose. Like Pfizer, other major companies are already pioneering patient centricity through the creation of a named role, with the sole task of incorporating the patient’s voice and experiences into the business model.
5. Work in solidarity
There are multiple challenges that pharma needs to address as an industry. “For more complex market propositions, the industry faces hurdles including the absence of established reimbursement and regulatory pathways, and some skepticism about the motives of the industry,” observes Mackintosh. He adds, “Early successes will help open the door for an expansion of patient-centric healthcare, but the industry needs to make the case and win the support of policymakers to create an environment that supports integrated health innovation.”
Even though we’re competitive companies in a competitive industry, there is a willingness to collaborate with each other, and also with academia, patient representatives and advocates, and health authorities, because it is the right thing to do.
There is a need to go beyond the individual goals of pharmaceutical companies, as is the case for Pfizer. According to Schneider, “There is a willingness to go out of the silos in our company, but also outside our organization in order to connect and collaborate appropriately.” Fortunately, she observes the same willingness in others: “Even though we’re competitive companies in a competitive industry, there is a willingness to collaborate with each other, and also with academia, patient representatives and advocates, and health authorities, because it is the right thing to do. To connect and collaborate is a new way of learning.”
6. Collaborate in unique ways
Working together may be easier said than done. However, putting patient centricity at the core of the pharma industry and surrounding that with trust for each other can open up avenues for alignment, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. Collaboration can be achieved through research partnerships, joint working, and open innovations.
For research collaborations, for example, Schneider cites how Pfizer’s sickle cell research team pairs up with medical ethnologists, who follow and observe sickle cell disease patients 24/7 for several days to incorporate real world insights into their clinical trial design. Another great example is the collaborative research work of GSK and Janssen with government agencies to help develop vaccines for Ebola. Although this endeavor doesn’t ensure a return on investment, it succeeds in acquiring better knowledge about the disease and at the same time bringing the reputation of pharmaceutical companies into a more positive light.
Joint working is also fast becoming a necessity to reduce duplication of effort and increasing efficiency in reaching patients who need the most assistance. It is a move beyond traditional sponsorship. Joint working includes collaborating skills, talents and information to develop and implement patient-centric programs. Teva UK Limited, for example, took on the challenge of NHS Bristol to improve asthma management and reduce asthma hospital admissions in the region. The joint project reduced admissions by more than 19% in 2012 and patient-reported outcomes indicated that many of the patients felt more confident with their asthma management and inhaler usage.
Open innovation refers to tapping the competencies of out-of-industry leaders, particularly those from technology and innovation firms. It is often referred to as an ‘outside-in’ approach to deliver outcome-based products and services. Hospitals, for example, keep in touch with equipment brands such as GE Healthcare, which has recently developed the SensorySuite to relieve women’s anxiety during mammograms. This involves providing a customized experience with an interactive environment to distract the patient from the examination, thereby helping to achieve better compliance and better images.
Other healthcare providers partner with tech firms such as Cohealo, which transfers unutilized, expensive hospital equipment between surgeons to facilitate immediate operations for patients. There is also Pocket Anatomy, which allows physicians to create interactive, 3-D and gamified representations of medical information and procedures. Many hospitals partner with systems innovation firms to make operations more efficient and patient-centered. For example, some hospitals adopt systems programs that can drastically reduce the 4-6 week waiting time between diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer patients.
Patient centricity as the shared goal
Patient centricity isn’t a competitive tool, but a strong foundation that can uplift the entire pharma industry, allow companies to recommit to their health mission, and win back the patient’s trust. This can only be achieved by embracing the modern patient, trusting other pharma players, and collaborating to create an industry-wide culture that puts the patient first.
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