Patient-centricity: Beyond marketing speak to metrics

It’s the latest buzzword in healthcare, but many in the healthcare industry are still unclear on what exactly "patient-centricity" means aside from a lot of marketing mumbo jumbo.

Partly because healthcare is becoming increasingly competitive based on customer service, establishing “patient-centricity” in the coming years will be a crucial element for retaining market share. As such, 85 percent of pharma company executives in the U.S. and Europe say they expect their organizations to ramp up spending on patient-centric capabilities through 2018. The average number of patient services within their companies is expected to jump from nine to nearly 14, with the greatest increases surrounding benefit coverage and access support, health counselor services participation and adherence program management.

Clearly, the industry recognizes the need for stepping up its game when it comes to catering to these newly empowered consumers. In fact, patient engagement is being called the “Blockbuster Drug of the Century” for its industry impact, says Vera Rulon of Pfizer Medical.

“Having demonstrated clear business and patient value, patient services is attracting greater investment and will become a key competitive driver of success in the healthcare market,” says Tony Romito in an Accenture Life Services report. “The question will no longer be if life sciences companies should offer these services, but rather which ones — and how.”

Spurring the movement is the trend toward consumers participating more in their healthcare decisions and voicing related opinions through their wallets. As such, providers are taking better steps to directly educate consumers via solutions, tools and information that can help them focus on cost, quality and convenience.

“The average healthcare consumer is far more sophisticated than those of earlier generations, and is far more likely to turn to friends, experts and technology to gather information, notes Nick Colucci of Publicis Healthcare Communications Group. “Thanks to years of concerted efforts to make patients feel more comfortable in discussing their health, the stigma of many health concerns is breaking away.”

Other drivers in the patient-centric trend include the greater emphasis on healthcare outcomes by payers; the growing need for product differentiation; the rapid turnover of new digital technologies; the growth of personalized medicine; and ongoing advances in genomics — the mapping and sequencing of genes.

Marketing strategies you can employ

That shift in perspective means you’ll likely want to shift your marketing strategy to avoid falling behind. Some suggestions include:

  • Avoid being perceived as insincere about patient-centricity by taking concrete steps toward better understanding patients, rather than just espousing such goals in company literature.
  • Consider forming a patients’ affairs division within your organization, perhaps assigning a chief patient officer or chief experience and engagement officer.
  • Continually learn as much as you can about your patients via tools including ethnographic research, big data, online listening and direct patient engagement. Belgian drug firm UCB, for example, surveyed three patient communities on Facebook (Epilepsy Advocate, Parkinson’s More Than Motion and Crohn’s & Me) to better identify patients’ shared needs and differences.
  • Think about how you can optimize transparency. The Open Notes program recently initiated by patient advocacy group the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for example, facilitated patient access to their doctors’ notes.
  • Take advantage of advanced research methods that produce both qualifiable and quantifiable results, striving to drill down into patients’ unmet needs, barriers to treatment, emotional insights and root causes for decisions.
  • Brainstorm ways of improving patients’ quality of life in physical, emotional and mental terms, thinking of patients as your active partners.
  • Instead of pushing information, listen closely to what’s important to patients and seek to connect with them even before strategizing solutions. Baxalta is one firm that’s developed new therapies in direct response to patient feedback. “We have been engaged with the hemophilia community for more than 60 years, and in that time have learned a lot about what patients and their caregivers value, and how they want to manage their condition,” notes Brian Goff of Baxalta.
  • Share information on diseases as well as products.
  • Stay in close contact with, and perhaps collaborate with, patient advocacy groups. Often they can alert patients of medical research and help identify trials most targeted to their diseases. For example, Acorda Therapeutics partners with research foundations and advocacy groups like the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Fox Trial Finder to reiterate the importance of research and accelerate clinical trials.
  • Understand the challenges of patients in clinical trials and devise ways to make their experiences smoother and more rewarding. Research shows, for example, that many participants seek better post-study feedback and thank yous for participating.
  • Provide multiple communication channels that meet different patient preferences.
  • Develop resources like specialized phone hotlines, educational resources and peer advisors who can help patients through their daily medical struggles. For example, biopharmaceutical firm Baxalta caters to patients with hemophilia via a personalized support website and live chat center available 24/7.
  • Evaluate your current communications processes. UCB Cares now offers a single number for patients to call on any topic related to their healthcare. Staffers on that line are qualified to solve problems ranging from financial issues to product information so the caller isn’t bounced around to multiple extensions. Customer satisfaction rates and employee engagement have both improved.
  • Use technology such as predictive models and clinical decision support tools to personalize patient information as much as possible. Example: A Janssen Research & Development disease interception system seeks to identify genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers in people at risk of developing certain conditions. “To make this shift from ‘diagnose-and-treat’ disease-based care to ‘predict-and-preempt’ health-based care will mandate a new model of teamwork,” suggests Kevin Wildenhaus of Johnson & Johnson.
  • Collaborate with biotechs and other trial sponsors when possible, since patients now have more influence across the entire development continuum.
  • Stay on the cutting edge of digital health tools and partnerships with health tech firms that could benefit your patients.

Can ROI be proven with a patient-centric approach?

Because those in charge of organizational budgets often find patient-centric measures too soft to monetize, advocates may initially have to sell them on research showing the necessity of keeping up with the rest of the healthcare world.  

Some suggest, however, that once the movement takes greater effect increased participation in clinical trials will be able to effectively measure impact. Theoretically, numbers will grow as patients increasingly trust pharma and the entire trial process becomes smoother, more transparent and more rewarding. Already, says Kenneth A. Getz, stakeholders are using key implementation and ROI metrics to measure reach, patient/study volunteer feedback and performance in such studies.

For the patient-centric movement to really work, Getz says, clinical research professionals will need to re-think certain conventional practices; Sponsors and CROs will need to set the bar high for integrity and safe and ethical principles; industry leaders must change processes to allow for patient input; and the philosophy must be widely integrated into all aspects of R&D while still preserving the strengths of traditional approaches.

“It is still in the early days and there is limited data demonstrating the extent and impact of patient-centric initiatives,” Getz notes. “As more is learned, select initiatives will take hold and many will not. At a minimum, the patient-centricity movement is inspiring the drug development enterprise to challenge and transform the traditional drug development paradigm by putting the patient at its core.