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Turning Patient Centricity from Theory into Practice: UCB CASE STUDY
We interview Patty Fritz, Vice President, Corporate Affairs at UCB in the U.S., as well as Greg Cohen, Senior Manager, Social Media & Influence at UCB to learn more about recent initiatives aimed at elevating patient centricity to the next level.
As industries progress, it is important that the lexicon keeps step. The evolution of language can drive innovation through enabling communication of best practices and change, between firms and to the customer. But while the diffusion of patient centricity language into ‘pharma speak’ has brought these benefits, there is the danger that some companies simply echo this dialogue without meaningful change. This carries the risk of devaluing the concepts, not just for individual companies, but also for the industry at large. It may also devalue the real impact companies can have on patients’ lives through future innovation. Indeed, the cynic may have grounds to say that there is a gap between those genuinely passionate about impacting patients’ lives, and those who just profess it in their company literature.
We seek to put a spotlight on companies that are actually putting theory into practice, and UCB is one company that has been leading the way. We interviewed Patty Fritz, Vice President, Corporate Affairs at UCB in the U.S., as well as Greg Cohen, Senior Manager, Social Media & Influence at UCB to learn more about recent initiatives aimed at elevating patient centricity to the next level by ensuring “patient value”, in particular ‘UCBCares™’, and the ‘Value in Healthcare’ survey.
A patient-centric approach
Fritz defines UCB’s philosophy as going beyond just treating a person or their symptoms, saying, “It is really about seeing the person as a whole, including emotional well-being, when trying to find solutions that improve their quality of life.” Part of this comes through recognizing that patients and caregivers are more engaged than ever in making decisions about their care. Fritz states, “They want to be seen as a partner in their care, they don’t want to be seen as just a condition.”Although many industries consider putting the customer first as business 101, Fritz points out that the pharma industry faces unique challenges that make it doubly imperative to do so. Innovation of new solutions, from discovery to delivery, is so incredibly time and capital intensive that developing a solution that doesn’t meet customer needs seems unthinkable. Fritz observes, “We cannot simply package up and redeploy, we have to put the patient at the centre to make sure we get it right the first time.”
Fritz and Cohen describe many ongoing initiatives to prioritize patient value in their work, including ethnographic research, big data, online listening and direct patient engagement, much of which is coordinated through a dedicated patient affairs division. A recent project, which is an award nominee for eyeforpharma Barcelona 2015, is UCBCares, a U.S.-focused initiative that takes a different approach to delivering patient support. Instead of having multiple numbers to call, or being passed around internally to get the correct information, patients can call a single number and receive personalized support from a qualified professional trained to discuss everything from financial support through specific product information. Fritz describes the inspiration for the project; “We stepped back and thought about the experience patients had when interacting with us. We thought if I was a patient, how would I know the different phone numbers or department names required to connect with the company to get the answers I need? I wouldn’t want to be bounced around. I would want a caring, compassionate experience from someone who is going to champion my needs. And that’s what we offer with UCBCares". Patient response to the initiative has been extremely positive, Fritz states, “in fact, our customer satisfaction rates have increased significantly in just a few months since UCBCares was established.”
A surprising part of the process for Fritz and the team was the level of engagement from across the company in putting the unit together. Designing and implementing the service was completed within months, and they have seen synergistic benefits from bringing together people from different teams. Beyond the improvements in customer satisfaction, they have also seen increased employee engagement amongst the team. Cohen notes, “Their attitude isn’t ‘my job is to handle requests,’ it is ‘my job is to make patients’ lives better’ and they really live that.” A boost to employee engagement came through Fritz’s championship of the project internally, including the decision to literally locate the unit at the centre of the U.S. Operations headquarters building. This positioning has had a real spillover effect with people working in other divisions, too. Cohen remarks, “Annual planning conversations are now focused on ‘how can we really bring the customer experience to the forefront?’ It has quickly become the mindset for everything that we do.”
Value in Healthcare poster project
While much work is done in the pharma industry to define value to the payer, physician or government, comparatively little is done to understand value to the patient, and Fritz cites this as the main impetus behind the ‘Value in Healthcare Poster Project’, an initiative to uncover patient needs. Through the support of patient communities, UCB had the opportunity to survey these audiences to find out the shared needs and differences. Fritz states, “We wanted to understand how someone living with Crohn’s disease values their health, and how that might be different for someone living with epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.You have to contextualize what each person’s journey is so that you know how to help them. Do they want to sleep better?; do they want to be able to walk better?”
The three patient communities that UCB surveyed were Epilepsy Advocate, the largest epilepsy group on Facebook; Parkinson’s More Than Motion, a community of 80,000; and Crohn’s & Me, also a Facebook community. UCB sponsors these unbranded, disease education communities developed for people living with these conditions. Cohen described the survey process as taking place in two stages. The first contained a single, open-ended question: ‘How do you define value in healthcare?’ Cohen states, “We wanted unstructured responses that captured what people immediately thought when they saw the word ‘value’.”
Once responses were collated, Cohen and his team read through every response clustering them into categories related to care (a caring attitude), financials (monetary value), customer service (being treated as a customer, not just a number), two-way dialogue (having the opportunity to engage with a healthcare provider), and time (the amount of time taken to get to the desired outcome). These responses were then used to structure more pointed questions for a second survey, to relate responses about value to information that gave a sense of that respondent’s worldview, or outlook. The breakdown of survey participants was 75% patients, 20% caregivers and 5% healthcare professionals, and in order to ensure a representative sample, they augmented promotion of the survey through Facebook advertising.
Cohen acknowledged that the survey still fell prey to the criticism from some that the responses only captured the mindset of the most engaged patients; something that he countered wasn’t necessarily bad. “Ultimately, these are the people who are going to be ambassadors, they learn and find new information and want to share it. Others who want to just sit back and read are going to get their information from those highly-engaged individuals.Our job is not to be the sole source of information, it is to empower patients and caregivers to seek out and share information with their networks.”
Results and value to the company
A common industry executive pushback to similar projects is that they don’t clearly deliver ROI, but Cohen opined that this may not be the best method of evaluation. “The value is in laddering up the results and insights, and I think that the ROI framework might not make sense for many value-based programs.” In order to realize this value, Cohen and his team took the findings and conducted internal sharing sessions to educate their colleagues in commercial, patient and medical functions. Cohen states, “From a value return perspective, getting the internal teams aligned around this idea that we are asking patients what they need, and we will be able to tell you, was really empowering.”
The key result from the survey was that patients wanted to be treated as individuals and become partners in their care, something that UCB is working to incorporate in all that they do from drug development to patient support. Fritz notes, “This is one of the most important findings that came out of this research. The most common response sounds very simple; it was that patients wanted to be listened to and they wanted to be heard.” It seems that the evidence is in; pharma needs to start embracing and collaborating with the patient as a capable partner, and join forces to deliver solutions that genuinely add value and meet their needs.
To find out more about the survey results, and to hear more examples of how UCB and others are driving tangible progress within Patient Centricity, check out eyeforpharma Philadelphia. This three track event will map out the latest best-practice for value beyond-the-pill, multichannel marketing and sales, giving attendees the tools to join the industry in delivering patient-centered care.
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