An Integrated Patient Journey

To truly improve patient engagement and support, we must start by understanding their journey.



Major pharma companies tend to adopt vision and mission statements which put the patient at the center, for example:

GSK: We want to help people to do more, feel better, live longer.

AstraZeneca: Delivering great medicines to patients through innovative science and excellence in development and commercialization.

Pfizer: At Pfizer, we’re inspired by a single goal: your health.

Novartis: To prevent and cure diseases, to ease suffering and to enhance the quality of life.

In the work we do at Strategic North, we find that patient centricity can be more fully achieved by considering how patients can be supported from diagnosis onwards, by understanding their needs along their personal journey with their condition. Exploring the holistic patient journey offers an important perspective, allowing us to understand how and when to offer tools and support that enable the patient to engage more proactively with their condition and treatment.  The right interventions at these ‘touch points’ can enable patients to overcome barriers and empower them to stay on track with their treatment.

Clearly, it is neither possible nor appropriate for pharma to provide all the support a patient may require during their illness. In order to understand and prioritize which support tools will have the biggest impact on patient engagement, first we must map out the integrated patient journey.

Mapping an Integrated Patient Journey

An integrated patient journey map includes both the clinical journey and how this impacts on the patient emotionally, functionally and socially over time.  There are several insightful techniques that we use to clearly map out the patient journey – this creates an integrated, longitudinal view of the patient experience, rather than a snap shot at any one point in time – and to prioritize the most important touch points during which to intervene.

First and foremost, patient research should be ethical with full consideration of patient needs and perspectives. For many pharma companies, patient research can represent a minefield of red tape and compliance checks which unfortunately often leads to patient research being omitted from research methodologies. Companies then become completely reliant on the HCP perspective of their patients experience, which whilst valuable, can never reflect the true reality of the patient journey.  Whilst the approval process can often be a high hurdle, we believe that the richness of insights captured from patient research far outweigh the potential pains of an approval process.

Our own approach to patient research is full immersion in the patient’s history and present day life. We have a tool box of techniques to get beyond the rational, and to elicit the more emotive, hard to articulate, often unknown, thoughts feelings and perceptions of patients throughout their journey. Whether it be mood boards, blob trees, good day/bad day, creating collages, drawing timelines with peaks and troughs, all can lead to deep and rich (and in some case therapeutic) conversations with patients. In addition to traditional in-depth interviews, where appropriate, we can also utilize smart phones to capture in-the-moment thoughts and feelings. For example, patients could be asked to film themselves immediately after they have had a consultation, or received test results or received some form of therapy. By using technology in this way we can gain a real window to the patient experience at key points in their disease journey and capture unedited thoughts and feelings.

Eliciting such insights from patients is all well and good; however, this is a wasted effort unless we can truly immerse pharma clients in the patients’ lives and experiences. To achieve this we typically use a professional production company to video a small sample of patient (and HCP) interviews in their home (or office) setting and create a video montage that tells the patient story. This way client teams can truly understand the patient journey.

Designing Touch Point Interventions

Having identified the most important touch points, we look at the most effective ways to intervene and provide patient support, which we classify into 4 groups:

  • Educational support to improve knowledge e.g. disease information
  • Emotional support e.g. buddy programmes, counselling
  • Behavioral change support e.g. self-monitoring tools, planning tools
  • Practical support e.g. access to treatment, carer network co-ordination tools

By getting to the heart of what matters most to the patient and truly understanding their journey, it enables us to translate what we’ve learned into actionable outcomes for brands teams that will be meaningful for their customers.  And when considering how to make your business more patient-centric, we can offer some tips:

  • Start from a solid foundation of a clearly understood, integrated patient journey to enable identification and prioritization of potential touch points.
  • Be clear which interventions are going to have the greatest impact on patient engagement.
  • Co-create solutions with customers to ensure they really are serving the customers’ interest.
  • Pilot tools before full launch because an iterative approach will surely improve the final intervention.

This is the approach we find helpful to explore and address the patient’s real needs, thereby getting to the heart of what patent centricity really is.  We hope you find it useful too and if you can build on this perspective or have your own thoughts and experiences to share, we’d really like to hear from you. Feel free to comment below.


David Coleiro and Michael White are Directors at Strategic North. Both have around 20 years of global experience within pharma insight, brand and commercial roles. In their ‘Building Purposeful Brands’ column they share their unique insights on the world of healthcare and healthcare brands.

Strategic North is a healthcare marketing agency that works with clients in the pharmaceutical industry around the globe to build the successful brands of today and tomorrow, grounded in human insight and scientific understanding. David, Michael and their colleagues tweet @StrategicNorth and blog at www.strategicnorth.com/blog


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