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Patient-centricity for pharma marketers

In 2012, Melissa became a patient. Here she combines her experience, both as a patient and a pharma marketer, to provide five tips on how industry can become more patient-centric

In June 2012, after six years working in pharma marketing, I became a patient. I knew something was wrong, but my GP dismissed my fears as just common “ladies' problems”, and eventually I requested to see a female GP. I needed an operation ASAP. She handed me a tissue, referred me and told me kindly to come back if I had any further questions. Outside, I rang my dad and wept in the middle of the high street. I was terrified.

My customer journey looked something like this:

  • 1 x unfortunate experience with the NHS (where they suggested I didn't have a liver and possibly cancer) 
  • 1 x hop and a skip to the private sector
  • 2.5 x hours of open surgery
  • 2 x large cysts and 4 x fibroids removed
  • 6 x nights in hospital 
  • 1 x specialist
  • ~12 x awesome nurses
  • 8 x weeks off work 
  • 1 x unconditional love and support from my family and friends.

When you are told something medically is wrong, it doesn't matter who you are. Your world flips upside down. My personal experience has given me a fresh perspective as a marketer. We, as an industry, have been guilty of being distracted by new and shiny things, which is easily done. I want to bring back into sharp focus the end goal which is – and always has been – helping patients.

There seems to be some confusion – in the available literature – on the definition of patient-centricity. My proposal to pharma is this: “Ensuring the end user, the patient, gets the maximum possible benefit from a product and/or device”. 

Companies must meet real customer needs at the right touchpoints, if they are to be competitive - this is being customer- (patient-) centric, and it's good marketing.

The five 'HOWS' of patient-centricity

1. Know thy context
At no point did I interact directly with pharma – or have a need to – and arguably this scenario is more common than not. It might change, ie, with the NHS reforms but let's talk about right now. There are instances when direct interaction between pharma and patient is needed, but the potential return on investment in engaging is questionable. Before you embark on a thankless task – QR codes for example – ask yourself: Have we provided all the information HCPs need to make informed decisions for their patients? When and where do patients need to interact with us? Can we deliver? What is the impact if we don't do anything?

2. Walk a mile in your customers shoes
How can a PowerPoint document truly convey the nuances of how a patient feels, and his experiences? It's difficult to empathise. Marketers must spend time in immersive research, ie, in the day to day lives of patients. They should see first-hand what it's really like. How their product makes a difference, and in some instances, where it is causing problems? At future meetings, where a decision will impact the patient, ask one simple question: what would 'insert patients name here' do? The result: more personalised, meaningful marketing that matters.

3. Create interactions that matter
Customers do not want a relationship with you. They want products that work. They want the right help – and information – in making good choices. In May 2012, Harvard Business School conducted research which found that 'decision simplicity in the purchase process is the #1 reason why consumers are likely to buy your product, do so repeatedly, and recommend it to others'. The challenge for marketers is to stop reflecting your internal silos externally and to be really clear about what it is you stand for and are offering, in a simple and transparent way within existing patient journeys.

4. Be bare and proud
Recent Blue Latitude research had HCPs discuss their trust issues when information is withheld: “It all comes out in the wash anyway,” said one, after discovering that negative data had been concealed. This experience resulted in her never prescribing that product again. How many other patients have been affected because of this event? I expected my HCPs to have the facts, good and bad. There is no perfect scenario, but ultimately you have a product that can change someone's life – if used correctly. The transparency trend is nothing new, but it is increasingly becoming a hygiene factor.  Pharma must move beyond ambiguous marketing statements on 'value' to clear and real medical evidence about actual results.

5. Be better than before
How much research is done to improve patients' experience of existing products? Product, packaging, usage etc… I spent time at a pharma call centre, where significant energy was spent educating elderly patients on how to take their diabetes medication. Sure, pharma is being helpful by potentially saving the HCP time, but how long is it before they ask these questions, or before your competitor releases a newer, better (easier) version.

Other industries, such as tech, have product managers and this dynamic should be introduced into pharma. Product managers are responsible for defining and driving the product strategy, working with user experience experts and designers to create wireframes, story cards and acceptance criteria, etc… Result: better experience equals increased likelihood of using and/or finishing a course of medication.

What will you be doing to ensure your brand is more patient-centric in future?

Article by
Melissa Clark

senior consultant at Blue Latitude. She can be contacted at

22nd February 2013

From: Sales, Marketing, Healthcare



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