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Walk a mile in patients’ shoes: How to become truly patient-centric
Lurking around the Internet and eavesdropping on people struggling with diseases is not enough to become patient-centric. It’s time for pharma to get out of the woodwork, and start talking to patients to learn what they’re going through on a daily basis.
It’s hard to be a patient. Every day is a debilitating challenge, which requires courage, determination, and the desire to keep on going. When you’re first diagnosed with a chronic condition, your life changes and some things are irretrievably lost. Although the extent of that loss differs per condition and per individual, illness unavoidably restricts the opportunities at one’s disposal. Does it have to be this way? Perhaps not, argues Michael Seres, who sees illness as a factor that, when adequately managed, doesn’t need to stop people form living full lives. More importantly, Seres proposes, pharma can play a vital role in restoring patients back to health by implementing services that go beyond the pill. To do that, however, the industry needs to step up their game, and learn what it means to be a patient. We spoke to Michael ahead of his presentation at the Multichannel Marketing Summit on being a patient and the approach pharma should take to embed the patient into everything they do.
“It’s easy for pharma to turn around and say ‘of course we want to know what being a patient is like!’. Usually that would be followed up by a creation of a focus group, but that’s not the point,” Seres said.
Every pharma company should have a patient representative on their board. I don’t mean someone who would come in and talk to them for a couple of hours. It should be someone who lives and breathes the disease".
Instead of creating focus groups, pharma should put patient voice on their management teams to provide insight on what it is like to be on a particular drug. What is the effect of the drug on a patient? What are the side effects and how to deal with those? What effect does the drug have on the patient’s life? Only if you understand that, can you become a partner in healthcare.
“Every pharma company should have a patient representative on their board. I don’t mean someone who would come in and talk to them for a couple of hours. It should be someone who lives and breathes the disease. At that point when they’re developing new meds, they would also learn how to provide all those other services that are important to patients, but that the healthcare system cannot fund,” Seres added.
Vision for pharma
My vision is that pharma starts looking at a patient as a whole, not just someone who consumes their drugs. I want to say to pharma that I need to take their medication, but in return for that, I want them to provide resources that will help me deal with my life as a patient. Look at my life as a whole, help me with my life, and I will help you in return".
Pharma should approach first-time patients with an offer of support. Recognizing that life of an individual is changing, they should provide contacts with patient organizations and communities who can lend comfort and advice, but pharma can also be more proactive offering something as simple as cinema vouchers. Anything that has the potential to increase patient’s quality of life is welcome.
“My vision is that pharma starts looking at a patient as a whole, not just someone who consumes their drugs. I want to say to pharma that I need to take their medication, but in return for that, I want them to provide resources that will help me deal with my life as a patient. Look at my life as a whole, help me with my life, and I will help you in return,” Seres stressed.
It’s this bizarre standoff: They want to talk to me and I want to talk to them, but the regulations don’t allow us. I would like pharma to unite and change the regulations".
Patients are an important resource for pharma, although regulations don’t permit a lot of interaction between the two stakeholders. Right now, if a pharmaceutical company wants to know how a patient is doing on a particular medication, they’ll go through a clinician, but what needs to happen is a three-way dialogue, whereby physicians, pharma, and patients have an equal place at the table.
“As a patient, I can give pharma real-world information more quickly and more reliably than a physician can. Social media and online communities enable me to interact with other patients the way pharma right now can’t,” Seres stressed. “It’s this bizarre standoff: They want to talk to me and I want to talk to them, but the regulations don’t allow us. I would like pharma to unite and change the regulations.”
Commercial interests can be reconciled with improving healthcare
Although it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of pharma as this “big, bad” entity, patients like Seres recognize that the industry is what’s keeping them alive, and that they can’t ignore it.
“I have no issue with pharma earning the money that they earn, provided that part of the revenues they generate is being spent on creating better medication, developing improved services, and ensuring higher quality of life,” Seres said. “What I have an issue with is them trying to push one drug over another purely for profit.”
As patients become more empowered, their expectations of pharma are likely to increase. Right now it seems that the industry is a little afraid of the patient. What if patient feedback is negative? What if the drug doesn’t work as expected? Right now pharma is protected from those comments by third-party interference, but it seems like they fear hearing what patients have to say about medication. “The truth is that by not entering the discussion it’s even worse,” Seres concluded.
Patient-centricity calls for putting patients at the center of your business model not only as customers, but also as advisors. Allow consumers of your products to have a direct influence on the industry and the payoff will be substantial.
Michael Seres will be speaking at the Multichannel Marketing Summit, 17-18th September in London. For more information on his presentation, click here.
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