Anatomy Health

Five practical steps to patient centricity

  • Language is key: Patient centricity starts with developing information, services and support that meet the health literacy needs of your audience.
  • HCPs are the gateway: A cohesive patient support strategy must include a detailed plan of how you are going to sell-in your support services to HCPs and the wider healthcare system.
  • Shift from a product to solution mindset: The ultimate aim of a solutions-led model is about bringing an outcome to the market, not just a treatment.

How can pharma marketers put patients at the centre of product strategy and help improve their conditions? And which companies are developing truly patient-centred support and services? Here Shai Blackwell and Oliver Childs from Anatomy Health step away from the crystal ball and get pragmatic.

You’ve heard the argument before: pharma needs to change.

It has been suggested that we should look to the car industry, which, with the likes of Uber, has moved towards a ‘mobility-as-a-service’ model. Or the Apples and Amazons of the world, that understand customer experience – and not just core product – are key to commercial success.

True patient centricity will come from a shift towards a ‘health-as-a-service model’, where the pill sits at the centre of wider support offered by pharma.

It makes sense. Healthcare systems are under huge financial pressure. They need better.

Better and cheaper treatments are always needed, of course. But demonstrably better value is needed, too – value that comes not simply through unit cost, but from wider patient experience and outcomes. Pharma needs to provide this value in order to succeed in the brave new patient-centred world.

But what’s sometimes missing from these future-gazing discussions and thought pieces is concrete, practical guidance. What can you do now to be more patient centric and value driven?

Here’s our five-point guide.

1 Start by speaking to patients in a language they understand

Segmentation, patient personas, patient experience, journey mapping, co-creation… pharma has moved quickly to adopt tools and techniques to better understand audience.

But how well do we really know patients? Judging by the evidence, the answer is not as well as we think we do. In the UK, for instance, six-in-10 adults struggle to understand the health information that’s provided to them.

From simple leaflets to in-depth patient portals, the evidence shows that these tools are often too complex for patients.

That six-in-10 statistic comes to life when you talk to everyday people about the language of health:

So, our first piece of advice is our simplest, but also the most important: make your patient support easier. Write and design services that you know actually make sense to patients because you’ve tested them with everyday people. Work with writers, designers and UX specialists who understand the evidence of accessibility.

One excellent recent example of a company taking this to heart is the award-winning Universal Patient Language project from Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS). UPL is a set of practical resources that help communicate complex topics to patients. It was designed specifically to help present information to patients in a way that is fair, accurate, understandable, and which addresses patients’ needs.

Elizabeth Turcotte, Director of Patient Hub and UPL Lead at BMS, explains,“The story of UPL presents a unique approach to patient experience. We have applied the UPL to BMS patient communications for every product we have in market. But we have also made it a publicly-available resource.

“The hope is that if all industry players – from hospital systems to advocacy groups to clinicians to pharma – adopt a set of universal standards in patient communications, patients’ overall healthcare experiences will be improved.”

2 Talk to the people who already support your patients

Seeking to be patient centric without talking to everyday patients is clearly not the ideal. But what about also speaking to those who support them day in and day out?

Specialist nurses, for instance, frequently have insights about patients and the information and support gaps for a particular condition that aren’t always seen in the literature.

The third sector is, of course, a huge source of support for many patients, so seek out the advice of charities and patient bodies. Find ways of working together that adds more value than working separately.

Watch this interview with Ailsa Bosworth, CEO of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, where she gives her views on the quality of patient support.

3 Put HCPs at the centre of your patient support strategy

The main reason doctors fail to recommend pharma services is not because they don’t approve of them, but because they haven’t been told about them, according to a recent Accenture report.

The report found that sales reps usually fail to mention patient services in their meetings with healthcare professionals (HCPs). And of those who do mention patient services, only three in 10 present them in terms of their ability to improve patient outcomes.

If we’re going to evolve from purely product-driven marketing to engaging customers via patient services and outcomes, then a cohesive patient support strategy must include a detailed plan of how you are going to sell-in these services to your customers.

4 Partner with healthcare providers to demonstrate value

The ultimate aim of a solutions-led model is about bringing an outcome to the market, not just a treatment. In many cases that means proving patient services are valuable in the real world. This is not always easy and can require skills and functions beyond the traditional marketing department.

But there is an ever-expanding list of examples of pharma companies working successfully with partners to embed their ‘beyond-the-medicine’ patient services. Take Teva, for example, which is one of the first wave of partners in NHS England’s Test Bed Programme with its Care TRx Programme for people with asthma. Teva co-created the programme with NHS Sheffield, combining the use of a digital inhaler sensor and smartphone app with behavioural science and patient support services.

James Hadwin, Teva Pathway Development Lead, believes collaborating with the NHS in the real work environment “is where pharma can gain invaluable insight into the everyday challenges patients and clinicians experience”. Ultimately, he says, the project is giving Teva “an understanding of how to achieve patient centricity through a service model and informing how to embed such a solution into the respiratory pathway”.

What does ‘patient centric’ mean?

AstraZeneca wanted to answer this question, so worked with patients and carers to co-create a definition to serve as a reference point for consistent patient engagement throughout the product life cycle:

‘Putting the patient first in an open and sustained engagement of the patient to respectfully and compassionately achieve the best experience and outcome for that person and their family’

Guy Yeoman, lead author of the work, explains, “When we asked patients what they wanted from pharma, they were very clear in their feedback.

“They want us to stop focusing only on the ‘what’ we do and start focusing more on the ‘how’, because if we get the ‘how’ bit right, then the ‘what’ becomes so much more meaningful for them. This is reflected in the collaborative definition of patient centricity we published with patients.”

5 Think small as well as big

Finally, don’t think patient centricity is just for the heavy hitters who have the big budgets and new-fangled tech solutions. Remember our first point – to patients, value can be as simple as being able to understand, engage with and benefit from, the information and support given to them.

It’s so important that we’ll reiterate it: drawing from the evidence of what makes support accessible to everyday people is the crucial starting point to true patient centricity.

Improving the accessibility of even the simplest patient asset – such as a printed leaflet – can be the difference between someone understanding how to take their medication properly or not.

A patient-solutions mindset

The spectrum of patient-centric approaches is wide and varied. From tech-enabled to simple-language enabled, they all put patients front and centre.

Ultimately, patient centricity isn’t about a single website, widget or service. It’s about a world view and an embedded culture of seeing everything through the prism of patient need, and thereby realising the ‘health-as-a-service’ model of business.

About the Authors

Oliver Childs

Oliver Childs is Health Information Director at Anatomy Health. He works with clients to develop accessible, engaging and – above all – effective patient information and support services. He has worked in health and health communications for more than 15 years and is passionate about improving health through evidence-backed design.

Contact him at:

Twitter: @AnatomyHealth

Shai Blackwell

As Managing Director of Anatomy Health, Shai Blackwell partners with clients to plan what a good patient support activity should look like. From objective and desired outcome through to content and channel, Shai recognises that effective patient strategies start with the understanding that patients often struggle with health information.

Contact her at:

Twitter: @AnatomyHealth


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