There is unrest in the Patient Population….
Around every corner of the pharma galaxy, you can find industry consultants and experts highlighting the importance of patients. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a pharma company that doesn’t put the patient first in its communications, both internally and externally. There are even major pharma players with Patient Officers at the C-level of management, at the very top.
Patient centricity has clearly become a non-negotiable in the industry. In fact, there is so much chatter and content circulating around the digital universe that at times it feels like a veritable attack of patient centricity.
As patients have finally become a top priority for most pharma companies, the volume and quality of available information has greatly increased, which is a big step forward.
Now that pharma has proven exceptionally adept at “talking the talk,” the battle is shifting towards determining those that are truly “walking the walk.”
So who’s ahead?
A number of companies are making great strides and even winning awards for their efforts. In David Epstein’s (Novartis, Division Head and CEO Pharmaceuticals) keynote speech at Eye for Pharma in Barcelona (#trustpharma), he described how Novartis hires professional make-up artists to simulate the physical suffering that psoriasis patients often experience.
In another nice example, Sanofi won the Most Valuable Patient Initiative or Service award at Eye for Pharma with their MOSKI Kit initiative aimed at raising disease awareness through educational games.
However, from an industry-wide perspective, a logical approach to healthcare dominates and is based on the assumption that patients are rational agents seeking health benefits, as behavioral economists would put it.
With this view, it should be enough to simply provide the key facts around a disease and patients would be lining up for treatment and staying on therapy.
But we humanoids are neither drones nor are we clones.
People who need healthcare, and even those who know they need healthcare, don't always seek it. Whether it be due to personal embarrassment, denial or even outright despair, countless studies show that patients often avoid seeing the doctor when they need it the most.
Paradoxically, it seems that at least some of these challenges can even be exacerbated by the wealth of information available online, driving the belief in self-diagnosis.
As Richie Etwaru (Chief Digital Officer, IMS Health) recently put it, the internet is becoming the patients’ first opinion and doctors are becoming the first second opinion. And, logically, the internet thus becomes the second, second opinion as patients search for more reassurance and a deeper understanding.
In addition, as more and more health care systems no longer ensure a consistent doctor-patient relationship over time, some patients may have more difficulty confiding in a doctor they don’t know than one who is familiar with their history.
But it isn't just in the area of presentation for treatment and diagnosis where the irrational patient can be found.
Even for lifesaving therapies like kinase inhibitors for the treatment of otherwise deadly chronic myeloid leukemia, some patients will not adhere to prescribed treatment, even though it means taking only one tablet daily! When confronted about this, these patients often say they just want to forget about their disease and their daily treatment intrudes on this delusion.
If these kinds of treatments face adherence challenges from the irrational patient, surely all therapies do, and suboptimal adherence is a problem for patients, prescribers, payers and the industry.
Here, we must all have a common goal to improve patient outcomes while delivering greater value and improving customer satisfaction.
That's why it is so critical to take a patient-centric approach. Never assume, never guess, never infer, and, most importantly, never ever judge patients.
As one of our astute clients puts it, "learn to think like the patient, not for the patient".
At StratX, our latest generation of experiential learning succeeds in capturing the nature and the impact of the sometimes irrational patient and provides a fresh platform for leading edge, qualitative marketing thinking.
Stayed tuned for the next installment -- Episode III: Revenge of the Net.
You can find our previous installments here: Episode I: The Multichannel Menace