Patient Engagement: Great Expectations

Pharma needs to be nimble if it is to meet patients’ high expectations



Pharma must modernize if it is to engage in impactful digital patient engagement – and modernize fast. As the pace of technology begins to kill many of pharma’s traditional processes and procedures, experts are warning that as patients gravitate to those most in tune with their needs, they may leave pharma behind.

Pharma is being hampered by die-hard traditionalists, says John McCarthy, VP, Global Digital, AstraZeneca. “There are a lot of ingrained promotional and marketing parts of the pharmaceutical industry, which are reluctant to give up the old way of doing things. While patients are out in the world accessing Amazon and ‘clicking and collecting’ their materials, we have relied on a more traditional approach with several intermediaries. People want a better experience from us and it is incumbent on us to continue to push on the fears and on the internal organizational capabilities to make sure we are better able to deliver for these patients.”

Patients have “huge digital expectations”, says Lars Diemer, CEO of digital communications company, Agnitio. “These ‘on-demand’ patients expect to have the data they need to manage their health in the same way they do for everything else in their lives. They expect doctors to give them more personal care, and recent research shows that 40% of patients are willing to pay for additional services if there is proof that this can help them.”

Healthcare professionals too are crying out for digital help, he says. “The time is now; in a few short years, more than 50% of HCPs will be digital natives. If we blink for a few moments, they will be ahead of us.”

However, data from the “beauty of a myriad of opinions” from patients is “an unopened parcel”, unfiltered and uncategorized. “Meaningful digital engagement has the potential to open this and utilize it for maximum benefit. HCPs are starting to connect with patients, wanting to keep up to date and to get educated in new ways. They need to do this to enhance patient care – we know that 43% of healthcare professionals say that it is a challenge to meet the goals of improved patient outcomes. The question is, where these digital initiatives to help doctors come from?”

For Davidek Herron, Head of Field Experience at Teva, pharma should take a step back and ask, what is customer-centricity? “We need to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, asking ‘Do I find any added value in this interaction?’ and ‘Would this relationship be in line with what I’m trying to achieve?’. We really need to look at their goals what are they trying to achieve and this not only applies to the customers, it also applies to the patients, prescribers and the payers as well.”

Teva has had significant success with its independent BeCOn initiative, he says. “The BeCOn brand is Teva’s way of being a partner with the healthcare community, of providing additional skills and tools to healthcare providers to look at different approaches within holistic care, which we deliver through multiple channels. These may be digital but also face-to-face congresses.”

This initiative is an example of pharma stepping away from brands to deliver solutions focused on patients by engaging with HCPs, he says. “This is not about brand; it’s strictly about how we help our providers have these conversations with their patients, because we found out this is one of the tools that is potentially lacking. Originally, we wanted to target the patient, but we found out the healthcare provider was the best channel.” Thus, patient-centricity is the 'why' and HCP-centricity is our 'how'.

Without clear commercial benefits, companies may struggle to justify investment in dynamic digital communication solutions. However, this is the risk they must take, says McCarthy – as long as they measure the impact of their digital tools.

“It’s dangerous to try and measure ROI; what you should measure is the outcome you intended. The metrics that we use to measure success have a lot more to do with the engagement level of the community and the way we have been able to reach the population,” he says.

Co-creation by industry and patient is crucial, he adds, citing AstraZeneca’s work building its digital capability using patient-centred design. “In my opinion, the pharmaceutical industry is still too focused on the selling and marketing aspects as opposed to what we could be doing to better serve patients. I would love to see a shift to more primary patient research and that great understanding of the population that we are attempting to serve. That is going to be the differentiation point between companies as we move forward, how clearly we understand their problems. It is that clarity that will provide the right service; it’s thinking about serving and not just selling.”


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