The Shift to Patients
Danish pharma company LEO Pharma sees patients as co-creators in R&D.
As patients gain access to increasing amounts of high-quality health data online, their interaction with doctors – and with pharma itself – is changing. Kasper Jerlang, Head, Global Patient Communications at LEO Pharma is excited about the opportunities this offers. “If we want to help patients, we need to shift some of our focus to providing information when they need it and where they look for it,” he says.
He will be speaking at eyeforpharma’s Barcelona 2016 conference in March on improving patient experience by identifying the forces – such as online influencers - that impact their behavior, understanding and decision-making. People get their medical information in multitudes of ways now, from personalized Facebook groups to general Wikipedia articles and YouTube clips. “It’s the democracy of the internet,” Jerlang laughs. “Patients tend to like receiving information from their peers such as fellow patients.”
They also might like to get it from celebrities with their own condition, something which Jerlang views as a double-edged sword. “From a clinical perspective, it would be great if people who are influencers could upskill their knowledge,” he muses diplomatically. “Doctors have gone through a long education in order to become experts.”
Pharma was very molecule-focused ten years ago and now we see a shift to being patient-centric. So it’s really changed: our core customer is the patient.
To help patients in its own way, LEO has developed its QualityCare service, which provides free and confidential support and personalized information during all stages of a disease journey. The company is rolling this out to most markets and has also set up the LEO Innovation Lab as a separate unit tasked with developing innovative solutions to improve the wellbeing of people living with psoriasis.
“We are very active on social media and we invite patients in to co-create with R&D,” he explains. “Some commentators are saying that patients are not equipped to participate in an R&D dialogue but we see great value in including patients. Pharma was very molecule-focused ten years ago and now we see a shift to being patient-centric. So it’s really changed: our core customer is the patient.”
It’s just as important for us to help them in psychological areas and this is something we put a lot of resource into. Patient groups recognize that this is not something we’ll earn money from – at least not in the short term.
He accepts that there is a gap between how patient-centric some pharma companies say they are and how they actually behave – but he insists that things can improve. “In our disease areas, we try to reach out to patient organizations,” he explains. “But in most markets in skin cancer, there is not a specific group. It tends to be bigger cancer groups who, therefore, don’t have the focus.” This means there is a gap for LEO to offer more targeted help – but not necessarily based around its products. “Psoriasis is a skin disease that challenges the patient both mentally and socially,” he begins. “It influences your self-esteem and emotions, so it’s just as important for us to help them in psychological areas and this is something we put a lot of resource into. Patient groups recognize that this is not something we’ll earn money from – at least not in the short term.”
Opinions and needs
Of course, not all patients have online access – or at least, do not seek their information there – and, similarly, not every patient is part of a patient organization. This means that reaching them requires perhaps a more tried and tested path than social media can offer. “We need to listen to their opinions and needs,” Jerlang says. This can be done through market research, including focus groups, he suggests, as well as providing doctors with brochures on disease and treatment, or arranging skin checks at pharmacies. Also, it is not as though LEO has dispensed with traditional relationships altogether anyway. “We still have reps and partnerships with pharmacies,” he continues. “Often the doctor is the best person to convey information to the patient at the most appropriate time. We can help give doctors the educational tools to communicate with patients.”
In short, companies have to be prepared to engage in as many different ways as patients require – but here, perhaps, is the rub. Patient centricity sounds attractive in theory – but it is a massive change for pharma and research suggests that senior executives are split between seeing the patient as their main customer, and still clinging on to the idea that it should be the doctor. Motivation to change can also present difficulties – for example, some middle managers in particular are still being incentivized by sales performance, which may be at odds with a more patient-centric view of the world. That being the case, getting internal buy-in to change processes and approaches requires sensitivity. “It’s an ongoing process,” Jerlang concludes. “Our CEO has led the change and that’s a very powerful ally to have! New ways of working need to be learned. We do a lot of internal communication and education but this is not something we are done with yet – we still have a journey.”
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