An Unexpected Journey

A better understanding of the patient journey is increasingly informing company strategy



Journey [noun]: The act of travelling from one place to another.

By mapping the patient journey – the path taken from diagnosis through treatment to management, recovery or death – pharmaceutical companies are playing an important role in improving patient outcomes.

However, the insights emerging from this research can also shape their marketing strategy and activities, says Rebecca Joslin, Head Customer Experience Strategy at Shire.

Better understanding of the key touch or pain points across the patient journey allows us to identify opportunities on how we can better support our customers, healthcare professionals, and the patients they are treating with our products, she says. We need to ensure that we are putting patients’ experiences and needs first.

“By focusing on patient perspectives rather than the company’s perspective to better understand their needs – and their interactions with health stakeholders – you can develop solutions that improve patient experience. This can have benefits for us as a company, but ultimately is about working closely with all key stakeholders who are trying to improve that patient’s experience and life,” says Joslin.

To achieve this, Shire brings everyone involved in patient care together. “We hold workshops with patients, physicians, nurses – all the stakeholders that have an impact on the patient’s journey – to pool their experiences and expertise. It’s about describing and understanding the disease, and it’s about creating solutions, but it is the patient, not us, who do the presentations and explain their journey.”

Feedback from patients has been extremely positive, she says. “They’re amazed that we’ve brought them in and want to listen to them – a reaction that has had a positive impact on the perception of Shire working in rare diseases.”

The workshops have produced an unexpected side-effect; greater understanding of other companies’ activities. “By mapping out patient journeys, it became clear that competitor companies were sometimes doing a better job in providing solutions at a specific point in the patient journey. We realized there was no advantage in competing here and found other areas of the journey that will ultimately improve the patient and stakeholder experience.”

The research highlighted area in Shire’s approach that could be improved. “With one therapy, it became clear how highly focused our competitors were. This woke people up to the idea that we really need to be more targeted in our approach to further support these patients and improve their outcomes and experience.”

The lesson was to focus on a different part of the journey, especially with products that were not yet on the market, in order to strategically differentiate ourselves, says Joslin.

An important discovery from Shire’s analysis of the patient journey was that the needs of chronically ill and rare disease patients were often overlooked or undervalued. “Often, companies spend so much time on newly diagnosed patients that we tend to forget about patients who have been living with a disease for years. Yet people are living longer and developing complications that practitioners hadn’t envisaged or catered for.”

Even in a mature therapeutic area, there are opportunities to improve the experience of such patients, says Joslin. “It’s the right thing to do. For patients with rare diseases there is often a huge unmet need so it’s important that we are supporting patients’ actual needs and improving their experience.”

One tool that we have used is the Rare2Aware campaign, an online platform and forum that raises the awareness of rare diseases. “With this campaign – and through social media more generally – we’re capturing the stories of patients living with these diseases, the complications they might experience, how they’re coping. Being online lets patients read about how other people have managed their disease and what to expect,” she says.

Now, more than 40,000 patients are following and getting involved in Shire’s campaigns. “Every time we do a Rare2Aware campaign we have a ready-to-go audience who will talk about the campaign online and increase awareness of these diseases and the treatments available,” says Joslin. 

Shire is also looking into other ways that new technologies such as AI can be used in support of patients with rare diseases, to help them and health care professionals understand more about diseases.

While we are making some strides forward, there is still a lot to do, says Joslin. “We need to map every detail of the experience patients have to see where they are falling through the cracks and to identify opportunities where we can further support with our products or services. By understanding the patient journey and applying it to our strategy, it will be good for our business, but more importantly it will improve the lives of those patients who have rare diseases, which is ultimately why we all come to work at Shire.”


Rebecca Joslin will be speaking at the Marketing and Customer Innovation Europe 2017 conference in London on 2-3 November.
 


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