Being a truly patient centric agency

Cuttsy+Cuttsy | 4 August 2016

When a brief comes into the agency and the word patient is mentioned, I immediately feel a buzz. Whether we have been asked to develop a strategy to support patients on a clinical trial, help improve a patient’s understanding of their disease and/or treatment or hold an internal patient insight session it doesn’t matter.

Each and every challenge that focuses on satisfying the needs of patients, or helping pharma or healthcare professionals (of all guises) understand these needs more closely excites me. It therefore goes without saying, that I am thrilled that being a patient centric agency is now a serious focus for many pharma organisations. It is a revolutionary time when ‘patient centricity teams’ and ‘Chief Patient Officers’ become reality and not just buzz words on pharma feeds. It also means I get to work on more and more of the projects I love.

For me, true patient centricity is about completely integrating the patient perspective into pharmaceutical business strategy.

This means making what the patient experiences, needs and wants fundamental to the decisions made by a company – decisions that include the products and services the company provide, how they market them and how they operate.

I also think that, as time goes on, this model will heal the distrust between big pharma and the public that still rears its head every so often. I believe if pharma clearly demonstrate they are putting patients first in everything they do they can prove themselves to be more in line with the overarching purpose of healthcare – to help the patient.

Obviously, like any other business pharma need to make profit but I also think that there will come a point where they can only do this by re-positioning themselves. I fully agree with a statement made by Ramona Sequeira, President of Takeda Pharmaceuticals Ltd. in a recent Eye for Pharma White Paper on patient-centric profitability, where she says “It is hard to correlate patient focus directly to revenues in a mathematical way, but by increasing things like trust, stakeholder engagement, and patient outcomes, I believe you are going to be increasing the sustainability of revenues over time.”

Working in a healthcare communications agency I get exposed to a variety of client strategies (both promotional and educational) and I find it really motivating when I see patient insight and the prioritisation of patients’ needs given the attention they deserve.

Partnering with patients to gain an understanding of their unique insights are fabulous and necessary initiatives, but to become a truly patient-centric industry I think we need to do more than offer them a seat at the table. For me it is about taking the time to really listen and to attempt to create a true appreciation of the patient experience and situation. This is by no means an easy feat – particularly when you are dealing with multiple therapy areas, multiple products, multiple patient journeys and multiple patients.

I recently heard a client say to a sales team during a customer insights presentation ‘to walk in another’s shoes we must first take off our own’. I think this is the first crucial step to patient centricity. We must try and adopt a kind of ‘veil of ignorance’ where we must try and ignore all we know about our own situation and motives in order to fully empathise with the patient in question. Only once we have taken off our own lenses, and looked at life through the ones our patients wear, can we begin to build solutions that truly add value for them.

There are many ways to do this, obviously patient (and HCP) research is a great place to start but in my mind nothing can beat obtaining first hand patient accounts; not just testimonials but honest and uncensored patient stories. These aren’t easily come by and to uncover a patient’s true feelings and experience requires sensitivity, compliance and a belief in the need to uncover the truth.

This is where I believe a ‘patient-centric’ agency can add tremendous value. Firstly, an agency doesn’t wear the same veil as a pharma company and can quite often see the patient situation from a different perspective. In addition, an agency with experience in not only delivering patient-centric initiatives but in liaising and building relationships with patients can offer many of the precious skills mentioned above.

In addition to experience, I think it is fundamental that an agency believes in the patient centric approach. This means appreciating the ‘bigger picture’ i.e. its value and purpose, but also truly seeing the ‘smaller picture’ which is the individual patients and their stories. Only when we clearly understand the reality for the patients at the heart of it all and how focusing on them will provide value for us all, can we become a truly patient-centric industry.