Patient-Centricity: Decoding The Buzzword

No matter how you slice it, pharma companies across the industry are scrambling to be perceived as putting the patient first. But who is making good on this? What more needs to be done?

In many ways, the term ‘patient-centricity’ is doomed to become a victim of its own success. The more frequently a word is bandied about - the more cliché and conceptual it sounds. It is the fate of fashion. The ‘meaning’ of patient-centricity however, has a far sturdier footing, and it is radically transforming the healthcare ecosystem. Glib phrasings will come and go. But the underlying principle of patient-centricity is here to stay.

To fully understand how patient-centricity is being implemented, its meaning must first be clarified. Although it is fundamentally about achieving greater ‘empathy’ and ‘connectedness’ with patients, Alice Yeo, Associate Director Patient & Stakeholder Engagement at UCB, is reticent to use the term patient-centricity, finding ‘patient-value’ a more accurate descriptor. “We are businesses so it's not exactly all altruistic, it's finding that important intersection where you have a better patient outcome and there is business benefit. It's that intersection that we are looking for,” says Yeo. 

One key way of achieving this intersection is through the interplay of technology and human intervention, says Yeo. “From a patient perspective - they are interested in timeliness, connectivity and above all - sensitivity. Now that can't be done with pure technology. That must be achieved with a combination of technology as well as a human touch. They need to feel like they are being listened to at every touch point, which means the commercial field force must be connected in the same way that all the e-mail communication that they are receiving is connected. There has to be a 360 awareness.” 

Video ethnography is an effective way of employing technology to help pharma find patient-value, says Victoria Guyatt, Head of Ethnography, Ipsos Healthcare. Observing and filming patients in their homes and communities, capturing a patient’s day to day experience - Guyatt believes is an area that can have a profound impact on understanding patients and how pharma companies ultimately deliver more value to them. 

Wendy Kehoe, Customer Insight Director, Respiratory, GSK, worked closely with Guyatt to effectively embed this patient-centric approach into the company’s business model for COPD, which has in turn informed internal attitudes towards these patients. “Using these films and this insight from the project enabled us to give patients with COPD a face and a life within the organisation. People made emotional connections with the different patients, reflected in this work,” says Kehoe. She adds. “This permeated all strata of our organisation’s internal customers, from senior vice presidents, heads of respiratory, right down to the sales people who are going out and meeting our payers, meeting our HCPs on a day to day basis. I think it drives a different level of motivation as to why we are here, doing the jobs that we are doing.”

Kehoe adds that this approach has proven to be an intimate way of capturing the patient experience. “The camera you can see is quite unobtrusive, the patient was made to feel at ease and all this led to a level of openness and honesty that I have not seen in a lot of research I have done, to a deeper level of understanding and thus insight from the patients. It really put a person's face and story to the description of ‘patient’.”

Finding new ways to zero in on different aspects of a patient’s lifestyle has also been central to the success of UCB’s approach. The biopharmaceutical company has branched out of the immediate patient pharma circle, says Yeo. “We focus on the therapeutic area - rheumatology - and we listened in on where people are hanging out. What kind of blogs are they hanging out in? What are they talking about?”

Conversely, although seeking alternative avenues may find promising new patient touchpoints, UCB is also currently ‘streamlining’ and ‘simplifying’ its touchpoints, says Yeo. “Offline and online - we are trying to bring everything into focus. Instead of having 39 things to do with epilepsy in the US, we are going to pare it down to maybe three, so patients can find us and find what they need.”

In its search for new strategic approaches to patient engagement, UCB is not limiting itself to overhauling internal procedures, however, says Yeo. “We are also modelling our business after customer experience in other industries, such as Airbnb, Uber and Amazon Prime. It is about that sense of immediacy - becoming future prepared for disrupters or becoming a disrupter in our own industry. Whoever makes it there first - whoever is able put the patient in the driver’s seat - will win from a business perspective.”

Guyatt also recognises that pharma can learn a few tricks by channelling the ‘customer-centric’ formula of the fast-moving consumer goods industry. “Having a look at a customer-centric company - this is about finding needs and coming up with the best solutions to then address those needs. Building a culture around filling customer needs and then engaging them every step of the way, through continuously gaining insight and managing their experiences.” She adds. “This is not to say pharma has entirely ignored patients, it’s more that they have not thought enough about understanding the end customer’s needs (the patient), instead focussing on their HCP customers.”

Progress may be afoot, but what are the key challenges that lie ahead? Kehoe admits that as an industry, pharma has been slow on the uptake in terms of patient communication. There is a fair amount of ‘compliance’ to contend with still. Also, with the increasing emergence of new channels, there is a lingering sense of ‘we don’t know what we don’t know,’ Kehoe says.

Guyatt also shares the sentiment that old habits die hard. “I think there are considerable compliance challenges at this stage. Action is difficult because it is such a step change talking to patients. I think the desire to fall back into talking to physicians and looking at the ROI with physicians, means that pushing patient insights through and changing the way that organisations work is difficult.”

Yeo also chimes with the view that it is hard to shift entrenched attitudes. The balance always tilts in favour of ‘hard science, ’she says. “I just think that we are in a hard science field. People want 'hard science' and we are really talking about things that really involve 'soft science'. Yesterday we were talking about behavioural science, how important that is in understanding patient experience and patient value. I think it really is about embracing soft sciences and not just thinking about hypotheses in terms of hard science. Thinking about what might be the cognitive bias here.”

Alice Yeo, Victoria Guyatt and Wendy Kehoe all shared their industry insight at eyeforpharma Barcelona in March. We have just released our line-up of keynote speakers for the 2018 event - view here. 







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