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Five questions guiding the way to actual patient-centricity

‘91% of employees in the pharma industry believe it is very or extremely important for pharma to deliver on its patient-focused missions’

Andreas Daniel

By Andreas Reinbolz, Managing Director and Daniel Schäfer, Senior Digital Strategist, both at Syneos Health Communications Germany

Why do we work in healthcare?

Because we work for patients.

That’s why 91% of employees in the pharma industry believe it is very or extremely important that pharma is delivering on its patient-focused missions. We also learned that patients’ trust, encouraged by a better comprehension of our work, has been correlated with better clinical outcomes and features, including drug adherence and reporting of safety concerns. We are very happy with ourselves, but are the patients happy? They are not! Only 15% are actually confident in pharma delivering on its patient-focused visions. What has led to this disconnect? And most importantly, what can be done to change this? It’s all about being true to ourselves. In our experience, five simple questions can help assess our commitment to patients and guide the way to a clearer focus.

1 Do you know everything you need to know about your patients?

We tend to look at patients abstractly, as numbers, statistics, or more often from the perspective of their treatment pathway. This is helpful for segmentation and finding your market, but typically tells you very little about patients’ emotional journeys. For the past decade, the limelight has shifted from efficacy and safety data to a more holistically complete picture of patients – their struggles and victories – in essence, the story of their disease, with 76% of consumers expecting pharma/ healthcare to understand their individual needs. But these narratives are delicate and there is a strong risk to losing them in assumptions and stereotypes – and for us to again focus on the more comfortable, dry, faceless data. Missing out (or at times, even guessing) what concerns patients is likely to lead to services focusing on what we think is needed, and not what patients feel is helpful. Solutions are not difficult. When was the last time you spoke to a patient? Real, individual stories are very insightful. These conversations are ideally accompanied by tools such as social media listening, which can tell you more about emotions, questions asked and even the language being used.

2 Do we really want to engage in a dialogue with patients?

As customers, we actively seek dialogue with our vendors. We are all guilty of calling the service hotline of our airline, sending an email or tweet for technical support or walking into a store in search of personal help. This dialogue is happening everywhere and is only becoming more widespread. As a response, customer service is moving further into social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and even to instant messaging like WhatsApp. In fact, “the role of social media and how advocates can access their legislators is a real game changer, [...] Social media has given everyone a voice, which can improve dissemination of ideas, knowledge and resources” says Jen Horonjeff, PhD, founder and CEO of Savvy Cooperative. “A single tweet can create a movement, and patients can be activated more efficiently than ever,” Dr Horonjeff says. The healthcare industry seems to have a tendency of avoiding this dialogue with patients. We worry about the effort real patients might make, the risks of social media, pharmacovigilance, off-label questions and a minefield of legal requirements. We are so focused on what we cannot do that we often miss opportunities of what we actually can. A solution to this is influencer mapping, which can help to identify individuals with opinions relevant to us. There are also proven ways and processes to successfully engage and collaborate with patient advocacy groups. In the right environment, their influence is most notable, and third-party providers can provide support with pharmacovigilance or social media teams and community managers.


3 Are we ready to offer value (beyond the drug) to the patient?

The way to become more patient-centric is by creating value for patients beyond that of just the drug. Sounds easy, right? But what can we offer patients that they can’t get more easily elsewhere from trustworthy sources? Undoubtedly, this requires us to take action, making an appropriate investment to translate the insights gathered from questions 1 and 2 into a creative solution. There is real value in programmes co-created with stakeholders outside the pharma industry, that are built on real patient understanding to address real needs. Syneos Health recently built a video-blog programme, enabling physicians to support patients with hands-on disease information, which saw the client acting in more of a partner role and enabled more effective distribution of information to patients. This comes with an additional reward: collaboration between all parties in developing this type of content offers the opportunity to build relationships and extend networks while providing a great experience to all stakeholders involved.

4 Do you know why, or when, a patient would want to engage with you?

Historically, the industry thinks in the form of message delivery. Asking ‘What do we want audiences to believe?’ informs the question ‘What do we need to tell them?’. Advanced companies would also look at overall channel preferences, but even then we see a trend of linear thinking. However, patients have a totally different approach. Instead of messages, they are looking for solutions to their current problem, such as ‘How do I travel in my current disease state?’ or ‘How can I get rid of these side effects?’. The needs of patients are often driven by the events and challenges they face in a very specific moment. We should remember that 76% of consumers expect pharma/healthcare providers to deliver services that help them manage their health, and 59% expect their customer service to be as good as that of Amazon. This requires solutions to be built around the specific scenarios patients face. Enriched customer journeys, comprising so-called moments of truths – those where decisions have to be made and touchpoints are most likely to have an impact. Scenario planning* can also help frame solutions around these specific situations.

5 Do you know what success would look like?

As patient-centricity today is part of the pharma industry’s goals, the vast majority of companies have piloted ‘patient-centric’ models. Well, our final point addresses the reality – less than half of the companies are able to precisely measure the impact of their services on patient and business outcomes. Current KPI models still leave huge gaps and don’t tell us how well we actually deliver on patients’ needs. This is surprising, as these needs are not difficult to define. If we know what impact we are planning to have with our service, it is much easier to define what good looks like and how effectiveness can be measured. Even if it is qualitative, which is (of course) acknowledged and acquired through listening and a meaningful dialogue with patients.

In summary, patient-centricity used as a ‘gimmick’ in positioning statements bears the undeniable risk of damaging trust and reputation. However, by truly understanding patients and putting their needs to the forefront of all actions, we bring a different, sincere approach to the issue – a feature which serves as a huge differentiator. We shouldn’t just do it for the sake of doing it, but for the genuine belief that solutions lie in a holistic approach to improving patients’ lives. This is the platform that economic success in a healthcare company is built on.

In association with


22nd November 2018

From: Marketing



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