Creating Patient-Centric Growth
The surest way to create shareholder wealth is by focusing on patient health.
So, how exactly does a pharma company create patient-centric growth? Jill Donahue, who is an industry speaker and co-creator of the award-winning program EngageRx, describes this as the million dollar question that pharma companies ask. Donahue has spent her entire career, both inside pharma and now from the outside, advocating that growth through patient centricity is key to pharma’s future. She believes that while pharma has progressed substantially in its efforts to become patient-centric over the past 10 years, the industry hasn’t yet reached the tipping point – where it becomes a growth platform.
Donahue puts it this way: “Optimizing patients’ health doesn’t compete with optimizing our financial health; it leads to it.” And she’s not alone in this belief. According to a 2014 eyeforpharma survey, 86% of pharma executives feel that patient-centricity is the key to their profitability. The challenge remains: How?
To answer this question, Donahue is working with eyeforpharma on patient-centric benchmarks to define and measure how pharma can grow in patient-focused ways. These benchmarks will allow pharma to manage more effectively through clear patient-focused metrics. So far this has been a missing ingredient within the industry.You can give your input on the survey by clicking here. Then you will be among the first to see the results.
What could patient-centric companies do better?
Most pharma companies have patient centricity integrated into their visions now. They may even have a patient-centric department. Many are listening more to patients and creating programs that help patients. The opportunity, Donahue says, lies in moving companies beyond words and projects to a deeper cultural change. Being patient-focused should not be limited to specific initiatives or programs for patients; it’s a way of thinking, believing and acting.
Donahue tells a story about a manager who spoke out in a sales meeting saying, ‘We can’t afford to be patient-centric anymore.’ Donahue explains, “What he really meant was: ‘I see patient centricity as a cost, not as a way to grow.’ The frustration this manager expressed is akin to going on a diet then giving up after a week because you didn’t lose the 10 pounds you were hoping for.” This team had started off well with a patient program, but they needed a more comprehensive approach over a longer period of time to see the results.
Donahue pushed this metaphor further, suggesting that people who attempt to lose weight by joining in whichever exercise hype is the newest – and never actually imbibing the right self-concept and healthy mentality needed to keep a lean physique – will achieve weight loss but will fail at maintaining it. The same goes for patient-centric growth. A clear identity and a core purpose will define the long-term success of a company. In her experience, Donahue has observed that companies using their business primarily for making money - not as a way to save lives – continue to be conflicted between human and financial outcomes, which diverts away from a focus on growth.
What are the greatest barriers to embedding a patient-centric culture?
By far the largest barrier to embedding a patient-centered culture is seeing it as outside of the value-creation model. When patient centricity is seen narrowly as a cost of doing business, it will not be prioritized, measured and cascaded throughout the organization.
What if we could show them (managers) that the surest way to create shareholder wealth is through focusing on patient health?”
It’s important for company executives to evaluate the standards by which they measure the performance of managers. Typically, global headquarters reprimand managers when they fail to deliver on financial targets. Donahue poses a challenging question: “What if we could show them (managers) that the surest way to create shareholder wealth is through focusing on patient health?”
Evaluating managers and employees by different standards eventually leads to changes in the way members of the organization think and behave. According to Donahue, patient-centric growth will require companies to take a significantly big leap, which involves holding employees responsible for delivering on patient outcomes.
What can pharma learn about customer centricity from other industries?
Pharma’s perceived need to be focused on shareholder value must be put in the right context. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, had this to say on the topic: “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.” Donahue shares the same line of thought. She argues that the biggest misconception among tradition-oriented executives is that patient value and stakeholder value are fundamentally at odds with each other. The patients are pharma’s primary constituents, so when they experience value, it results in shareholder value as well.
Reframing pharma’s model to serve the customer first is a transformation that many other industries already embrace under the rubric of achieving greater customer satisfaction or ‘customer delight.’
Patient relations and service excellence expert, Fred Lee, notes: “Satisfied patients have no story to tell. Only the very satisfied and the very dissatisfied have stories they’re willing to share.” So what is pharma doing to create very satisfied patients? Pharma should look to the great customer-centric organizations - Disney, Apple, Amazon, Zappos, for example. Sanofi’s Chief Patient Officer, Dr. Anne Beal, put this well when she said in an interview with Donahue, "Pharma needs to get into the business of exceeding customer's expectations - just like Disney and Ritz-Carlton do." Companies need to figure out what the compositions of ‘patient delight’ and ‘HCP delight’ are to guide their product and selling strategies. This is particularly important in supporting employees at the front line of pharma who may experience tension or confusion between wanting to meet the customer’s needs and how they’re actually selling to customers.
How can we close the patient-focused ambition /execution gap?
Donahue speaks passionately about research that confirms her belief in the connection between purpose and business outcomes. She references Jim Stengel’s 10-year retrospective study showing what the most successful companies do to achieve ~400% greater growth than the Standard & Poor’s 500. The common ingredient was purpose, says Donahue. These successful companies focus on their purpose or the difference they make in the world. This is key to closing the patient-focused ambition/execution gap.
Donahue also notes that the list of the most successful firms included, beer, soap and soft-drink companies, but pharma organizations were notably a no-show. These other companies had put great effort into defining their purpose. “The irony,” says Donahue “is that in pharma, our sense of purpose is right under our nose. We are saving and improving lives! Yet we have not been empowering our people with this sense of purpose.” This purpose-driven mindset is not only highly engaging for pharma employees, but it also creates the common ground required to engage healthcare providers to partner with pharma to serve patients.
Through her experiences with the EngageRx program and with different companies, Donahue knows how positive the impact is when pharma employees are asked to genuinely reflect on their purpose in the industry and reconnect with the difference they can make in the world. People gain pride in what they do, feel more valued for their role, and stand taller while they do their work. They also get better access to HCPs.
While they are creating a patient-focused culture, “A key ingredient,” Donahue says, “is teaching their people how to find the ‘sweet spot’ - the place where everyone wins; patients, HCPs, healthcare systems and their organizations.” Unfortunately, most employees do not know how to find the sweet spot or are conflicted between what management is saying from a corporate philosophy perspective and what they are being measured on. The key challenge for leadership is to train people on how to achieve the right balance of value or hire people with a talent for it.
What advice does Donahue have for pharma leaders?
The good news is that small things can make a tremendous difference. Donahue recounts that during national sales meetings, she often hears pharma execs attempt to inspire their people with a message similar to this one: ‘Let’s go out and crush [the competitor’s product] and bring in $X million in sales.’ But Donahue urges leaders to change their emphasis and inspire people this way instead: ‘There are X million people suffering from [the disease] that our product cures. Let’s go out and crush [the disease].’ We need to re-think what we’re competing for and how we describe that to employees.
Donahue encourages leaders to imagine this scenario: You’ve hired a new rep and part of the onboarding process is to have a patient shadow him/her through all their meetings and training for the first year. Are you proud? Looking at sales training from a patient’s perspective is an important lens through which to see your organization’s role in patient-centricity. It can help answer key questions: Are you teaching your people how to engage (formerly known as ‘sell’) HCPs in a patient-focused way? “If this scenario is a scary prospect for the company, then they haven’t quite achieved an authentic focus on patients,” says Donahue.
To assist pharma leaders who want to prepare employees to sell and market in patient-focused ways, Donahue, together with her partner John Elliott, created an award-winning program. The name, EngageRx: The 3 Keys to Patient-focused Growth, says it all – in order to create a win-win-win situation for pharma, HCPs, and patients, patient-focused engagement is key.
Moving forward we need to gain back our trustworthiness by authentically being patient-focused in everything we do.
Not only did it quickly become the most popular sales excellence program Canada had ever seen - with it spreading by word-of-mouth to 25% of all sales reps in Canada - but it also won the 2015 LTEN Excellence Award for Learning Content. This shows that people are hungry for a new way to serve differently and better; with meaning and with purpose.
Most pharma executives can admit that the old and traditionally finance-oriented business model needs to undergo a transformation. “Moving forward we need to gain back our trustworthiness by authentically being patient-focused in everything we do. It is only then we will be able to contribute and make a difference,” says Donahue, who believes pharma can start doing this through the following steps:
1) Creating a culture of patient centricity in all departments and teaching employees how to find the ‘sweet spot,’ where patients, HCPs, society and your company all win.
2) Instead of training employees how to ‘sell,’ teach them how to engage ethically through partnerships to deliver better health outcomes.
3) Aligning incentives with HCPs’ and patients’ interests by rewarding improved patient outcomes.
4) Becoming more attuned to the challenges of patients and HCPs such that we can find ways to create delight.
Conquering diseases requires pharma companies to first regain the trust of industry partners and redouble their efforts at building new and meaningful partnerships. According to Donahue, “This will leverage our collective curiosity, our collective intelligence, and our collective creativity against the elimination of disease and optimization of health.”
Case Study: A Truly Patient-Centered Initiative
Since you're here...
... and value our content, you should sign-up to our newsletter. Sign up here