If healthcare solutions are to prove their value, a better understanding of the empowered patients we are trying to help and how they want to proactively manage their condition is vital. To achieve this, pharmaceutical companies need patient-centred insights.
Patient-centricity is a well-used term within the industry, and with good reason. From designing clinical trials with the needs of patients in mind, to creating patient support and education programmes that help them manage their health conditions, patient-centric thinking has a host of applications. But it’s clear that some pharma companies are much further along their journey towards being patient centric than others, largely due to their better understanding of patients’ true needs.
No matter at what stage of the journey a company finds itself, it will always need to form the clearest picture possible of the complete patient experience. Doing this challenges pharma to ‘connect the dots’ to capture a 360-degree view of healthcare consumers, their behaviours and motivations. This requires companies to think about the person with the condition and how they can create more value in improving that individual’s health.
It’s only by having a broad, well-rounded mindset, coupled with a real focus on understanding the patient experience, that we can view the whole picture and form an idea of the complete patient experience. To achieve this, a truly cross-discipline approach must be leveraged to first design the research study and then analyse the results. To this end, Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology frameworks can all be harnessed to help us interpret what we are hearing and seeing from the person with the health condition. Behavioural science, too, helps us to understand how to drive real behaviour change, which will support improved health outcomes. Without such a cross-discipline approach, it would not be possible to make the meaningful and impactful recommendations to pharma companies that then directly drive strategies for their brand and health outcomes teams, as well as functions such as corporate communications and R&D.
It’s this combination of social science research methods that enables us to hear the voice of the person with the health condition and observe how the health conditions fit into their lives. At this point, it’s all about identifying the intersections of the health experience, where humanistic health needs and potential pharma interventions meet. When companies truly understand all the intersections in the health experience, they can finally improve the patient experience by connecting the dots.
There are important learnings here for pharma marketers. Successful ‘beyond-the-pill’ or ‘around-the-pill’ health solutions will be those that are developed by connecting the dots of the complete patient experience to ensure they have a direct impact on improving the lives of people with health conditions. A key target for this is increasing adherence to help patients attain better health outcomes.
All patient-orientated activities should focus on the end result of driving improved treatment adherence. A useful consequence of the improved health outcomes this brings is that patients develop greater brand loyalty and have positive word-of-mouth conversations with friends and family. Obviously, this directly benefits brand teams, as patients stay on their medication and spread the positive feedback to others, potentially influencing others either to continue on the same medication or to ask their physician about a different medication. In addition, improved patient health outcomes have a ripple effect that reaches healthcare professionals (HCPs). When HCPs see patients’ health improve, they generally increase their prescribing of the same brands, to appropriate patients, thanks to the real world results achieved.
In addition to new ways of listening to patients, we’re seeing an explosion in the availability of digital health technology, the appropriate use of which can further help companies connect the dots of the patient experience. There are two uses of technology that are particularly significant in this context.
Firstly, from a social science research approach, the current technology can ensure we fully understand the health experience. For individuals and their ‘ecosystem’ of personal, family, social and professional settings, it’s a non-biased research method that enables us to gain a deeper understanding of their health experience – either by in-the-moment, short mobile surveys asking the individual targeted questions or by allowing us to observe the patient via passively collecting their biometrics and/or their physical activities.
Secondly, it can also be harnessed by pharma companies to digitally connect to people with health conditions, helping patients make the right health decision, at the right time. This could encompass creating ‘beyond-the-pill’ or ‘around-the-pill’ health solutions that provide ‘in-the-moment’ support.
As mentioned at the start of this article, pharma companies are on a journey towards being patient centric, with some further down the road than others. But no matter how ever far they’ve travelled, it’s a life-long quest, with even the most patient-centric companies able to benefit from continued learning.
Moreover, all companies still need to think beyond static patient support and education programmes and focus on creating patient behaviour change. By helping patients to make the right health decisions, at the right point in their health experience, pharmaceutical companies can help patients achieve improved health outcomes while on their brands.
The pharmaceutical companies that will be seen as truly patient centric by patients and prescribers will be those that know the value of understanding patients’ true needs when it comes to achieving better health and health outcomes.
Linda VerPlanck is the Managing Director of Kantar Health’s Marketing Insights team in Germany. As she drives the business through global leadership and consultative activities, she continually leverages her Cultural Anthropology background to deliver value-added solutions to meet clients’ business needs.
Her key areas of expertise are branding and communications development, leveraging qualitative techniques. She has personal experience in conducting traditional ethnographies in Central America and applying the use of technology to gain more holistic and patient-based evidence in various patient groups across Europe.