The term “patient centric” seems to be cropping up more and more but is it just another buzzword, like Multi-Channel Marketing was last year? And what exactly does “patient centric” mean?
Looking first at the meaning of “patient centric” – it essentially is what it says! It is about putting the patient at the center. Sounds simple – especially if you do not work in the pharmaceutical industry. In most industries it is a no-brainer that you center your marketing, strategy and indeed whole business, around the end user of your product and service. After all if your customers are not happy with your product or service you will potentially go out of business. In healthcare, and in particular from the pharmaceutical industry perspective, things are not quite so simple.
To start with the industry still sees physicians as their customer, not the patients. This is in part as a result of regulations but also in part historical. Until recently patients had little say or voice in their healthcare and relied almost entirely on healthcare providers for information and, to an extent, decision making. This, coupled with regulations forbidding most direct contact between industry and patients in most countries, meant that the patient rarely came into the equation. As far as the industry was concerned the key decision maker, and therefore customer, was the physician. Now as to how customer centric the industry is towards these customers is another story – and warrants a separate blog piece!
The advent of the internet and social media has led to a change in the dynamics between patients and their healthcare. Increasingly physicians are not the only, or indeed in some cases the main, source of information. Increasingly it is other patients who provide the answers and the information. And increasingly other sources online provide information to patients – not always accurate or appropriate but there none-the-less.
A recent example I saw was of a diabetes patient who reached out to a closed group of online friends. She had recently been prescribed a product by her physician but as a result of some of the things she had read online around side effects she was very scared of starting the treatment, despite her physician’s advice. She was delaying starting the treatment out of fear, which her physician had not allayed (and indeed had probably not covered in the brief appointment). She therefore turned to this Facebook group to express her concerns – not so much asking for advice as just wishing to share her feelings. Fortunately for her a couple of people in the group had experience with this product and told her not to be afraid and that it really was not that bad. They provided her with the more accurate, personal information she required but they also calmed her fears and provided the emotional support she needed. As a result of this she started her prescription as her physician instructed.
So how does this story help a pharma company looking to be more customer centric? Outside of the US the first response would probably be “oh we can’t talk about our products with patients so we are powerless in this situation”. Poppycock I say to that! Whilst in Europe companies are severely restricted in what they can communicate directly to patients they are able to communicate directly to physicians. In the example above had the physician been more aware of the conversations that his patients are reading online he may have been better prepared to allay his patient’s fears. Some appropriate patient support materials speaking to these fears may also have been useful for the physician to share. In the US the same rings true but there is the added element that pharma marketeers need to be aware of the dangers of DTC advertising. Due to regulations they have to document the long list of possible adverse events – which to many patients is far more scary than the disease! Again being aware of how patients feel, are communicating and thinking, can help counter some of this – for example by moving away from being so promotional to being more supportive in the messaging.
In essence being patient centric is about bringing some of this customer centric thinking into the work practice. It involves making sure you really understand your patients. How are they using your products? What are their fears and concerns? What support do they need? What issues do they have taking your products compliantly? How do you use this information in your daily work? This is even easier to do today – just as patients have access to more information so do companies. Using social media listening for example companies can identify what the key pain points are and look to provide support accordingly (either directly or via physicians).
This brings me back to my first point – is this really happening or is “patient centric” just another buzz word? Judging by pharma companies websites it is real – many of them promote their patient focus on their homepages suggesting that this is indeed of strategic importance. Sadly digging a little deeper shows that in many cases this is indeed just another buzz word. In many pharmaceutical companies there is talk of being more patient centric but too little action to support this talk. The regulatory burden puts many off. The lack of innovative thinking hampers others. But perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of realisation of just how import patient centricity really is. Whilst the example above is of just one patient – mulitply this by thousands and you start to see an impact on revenues. With patent cliffs, more specialised pipelines and tightening budgets every patient starts to count. What good is it convincing doctors to prescribe your products if the patients are getting information online that then dissuades them from using the product?
Patient centricity must move beyond being a buzzword for the industry. It needs to be embraced and incorporated fully by the industry today. Without patients there would be no industry so it is time the industry started acknowledging patients and taking their needs, but also their potential power, more seriously. Because if not who knows what the future holds for the industry – but I doubt it will be that profitable.