Creating A Unique Patient Experience By Listening To Patients Voice – An Imperative In The New Normal

Acquiring deeper insight on the patient journey through a disease treatment process to create and enhance end-to-end patient experience, never assumed such critical importance, ever in the past. Without this realization, I reckon, even digitalization of any scale in the pharmaceutical industry, is unlikely to yield desired results. The term ‘Patient experience’ is generally considered as ‘the summation of interactions that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care, until now,’ as defined in an article, published by Aranca on February 28, 2020.

This isn’t a new concept. This subject was well-deliberated even before the pandemic crisis. For example, an article, published in the Pharma Voice on April 2014, had also highlighted this point. It wrote: “Too many companies continue to view the world as a physician-centric, and do not recognize the growing influence of the patient in treatment decisions. The evolution toward a fully integrated commercialization approach centering on the patient experience will continue to crystallize over the next five to 10 years. Within a few years the industry will universally have one goal that supports the patient experience, as there is a tremendous amount of attention being put on the patient today.”

Even thereafter, another paper, published in the Reuters Event Pharma, on August 17, 2017, also reiterated: ‘A greater understanding of the patient journey is rapidly becoming an essential tool for market access.’ It further elaborated that the use of patient journey data stands to benefit everyone:

  • Patients: through empowerment programs,
  • Pharma marketers and more widely, the Company: by targeting the right patient segment and the company more widely.

The paper concluded: ‘Given the potential benefits, pharmaceutical companies should develop a robust mechanism to design effective patient journeys, which could prove instrumental when it comes to bridging treatment gaps and improving quality of life for countless patients around the world.’

From this perspective, Covid-19 pandemic seems to have hastened the process with changing customer behavior and expectations in the new normal, thorough understanding of customer needs emerged as a key success requirement for pharma marketers. That said, customer experience has to be measured both qualitatively and quantitively through credible market research initiatives, capturing the patients’ views. Guessing the same, as was generally the common practice in the old normal, would no longer suffice. This article will dwell in this area.

The pandemic played a catalytic role:

That Covid-19 pandemic played a catalytic role to hasten the process of providing a unique patient experience during a patient’s journey through a disease treatment process in the digital world. This was vindicated by a ZS study, published on July 05, 2020. The analysis found – over the last three months several companies started looking at new ways to engage with patients. These include:

  • Forming patient panels – to continually check and monitor the quality of patient experience that the company is providing,
  • Connecting with patient advocacy groups – to get a pulse on critical needs
  • Leveraging the field force – to hear from physicians where their patients need the most help.

These are laudable initiatives for dovetailing patients’ views in the drug marketing strategy to provide a unique experience to patients during their end-end-to journey through a disease treatment process.

Measuring patient-experience – an integral part of digital sales and marketing:

Measuring patient-experience has always been an integral part, virtually of all types of sales and marketing using digital platforms. We experience it almost every day, such as, while buying a product through Amazon, buying grocery items through D-Mart, scheduling a doctor appointment through Practo, buying medicines through PharmaEasy, or even for availing a service through Urban Company.

The November 15, 2020 research report of DT Consulting has also reiterated this need. It found, patients seeking and receiving care, depend on a complex system of health providers—an environment in which pharmaceutical companies play an important role. ‘When seeking care, patients gravitate to experiences that other patients rated well; when receiving care, they prefer experiences that consistently meet or exceed their expectations,’ it underscored.

Why then all pharma digital initiatives for its customers aren’t in sync with such practices? It’s about time that pharma players also follow a similar path, to continually improve company offerings, based on what the customers expect from a company’s brand and services – regardless of whether they are doctors, patients or any other key stakeholder.

I re-emphasize, this initiative has to cover end-to-end of a customer journey starting from clinical development, brand launch and expansion of market access. In each of these stages, loose knots, if any, require to be tightened, after thorough deliberations, to delight the customers – and consequently rewarded by them, appropriately. While some progress can be seen in this area, pan industry progress in this space, still falls much short of other industries. A pharma company may continue to ignore its importance, even in the new normal, at its own peril.

The way forward won’t be a bed of roses, expect thorns to overcome:

The above ZS study also brought out some interesting facts, as follows:

  • 43% of participants cited difficulty identifying quantitative, measurable KPIs that fit within the organizational structure and practices,
  • 29% indicated a lack of tools and resources to help communicate tangible outcomes and the case for change
  • 22% cited organizational silos as the true barriers.

The good news is, as the study highlights, Covid-19 has proven that it’s quite possible to actually be more patient centric to create an exclusive brand experience for patients. But, many ‘organizations still have work to do, in getting there.’

Sermonizing what patients’ need, without involving them, may be counterproductive:

Things were quite different in predominantly a physician-centric world for patients, in the old normal. At that time, sermonizing the treatment needs of patients, blended with a heavy dose of respective company’s self-serving interest, sans patient involvement in the treatment decision making processes – worked. The same approach may not yield desired cost-effective outcomes, when the customer behavior, triggered by the pandemic, is fast changing, for various reasons.

‘Patients want more services before they are treated’ for a disease: 

Many patients have been asking for more services, especially from the pharmaceutical companies, even before they undertake the journey of getting a disease well treated by medical professionals, regardless of disease types. Till Covid-pandemic, this remained mostly an unmet need for many patients, as this is an arduous for most pharma players. Which is why, most drug companies did not want to jettison the traditional approach, in favor of being ‘patient-centric.’ Thus, the entire decision-making process for any disease treatment continued to remain ‘doctor-centric.’

This wasn’t an unknown need for most patients, either, as it was well documented through several research studies. For example, an Accenture survey of 10,000 patients had examined their unmet needs in seven different therapeutic areas across the entire patient journey. Its findings concluded, ‘patients want more services before they are treated for a disease, regardless of disease type.’ Interestingly, even when such services were available in some places, the vast majority of patients still are not aware of the availability of these patient services, the paper added.

The situation is different today:

Overall, the situation is different today, mostly because, during a long Covid-19 lockdown period, many patients started visiting the cyberspace to manage their health, in increasing numbers. With the experience thus gained, a large population, even in India, now consider digital as a primary channel to initiate the journey for their disease treatment, such as telehealth.

As judicious assimilation of knowledge has always been a source of wisdom, patients have now become wiser to demand more services from a drug company that will help them to get cured of diseases and maintain good health – the way they want. More importantly, patients have also realized that in most cases treatment alternatives to choose from, are plenty.

Thus, the above study of Accenture raised the following question for the pharma companies to ponder that is more relevant today than ever before: ‘Are pharmaceutical companies missing a significant opportunity to provide services at the earliest possible point in the patient journey – before they are even being treated for a disease?’ That’s why, ‘patients deserve as much focus, if not more, in pharma market research as ‘physicians.’

‘Patients’ deserve as much focus on market research as ‘physicians’:

In the old normal, medical reps, in general, used to expect their target physicians to educate the patients about the disease while prescribing their respective company’s brands. With many patients getting more and more informed in the digital world, pharma companies need to strategize a comprehensive patient engagement and educational campaigns, enabling patients to actively participate in their treatment decision making process, exactly the way they want, to improve quality of life.

From this perspective, collecting first-hand data on patient-experience, straight from the voice of patients, isn’t too common a practice for the drug companies, even today. It will rather be a new venture for many, to gain meaningful insights on the impact of their operational endeavor – from the patients’ perspective. This will, in turn, help organizations strategize more productive engagements with them, reaping a rich harvest.

The process starts with ferreting out patients’ needs from a variety of credible sources – after cross-checking and getting it vetted by focus groups of patients, in due course. Some pharma majors, reportedly, invite patients to narrate their experience in the disease treatment process, directly to medical reps at their sales meeting on virtual platforms. A few others have started patient-groups in the selected therapy areas, for the same purpose.

Nonetheless, pharma marketers to please ensure that their organizations need to genuinely care about the patients, making this onerous task deliver a win-win outcome for both. The key point to take note of is that its real purpose, in no way, should be achieving any company’s self-serving objectives, under this creative façade.

Conclusion:

Creating and enhancing the unique customer experience has been recognized as one of the key success factors in any industry, pharma business is no exception. Curiously, it could not draw as much focus as it should have been, until Covid-pandemic struck, triggering disruptive changes in the customer behavior and the overall commercial environment. The good news is, in tandem with their digital transformation process, several drug majors are now mulling about patient experience-driven marketing strategies.

For this purpose, the pre-requirement is to put in place a comprehensive patient experience measurement framework, to accurately understand the end-to-end journey of the patients in their disease treat processes. This would include, capturing their key unmet needs from various sources, including focus group studies of real patients, in various formats.

Prudent use of connected health applications and AI platforms may be of great help – supported by state-of-the-art analytics, to gain meaningful access to patients’ behavioral and attitudinal data for strategic use, in various digital platforms. This has the potential to deliver a quantum leap in business outcomes. From this perspective, I reckon, for creating a unique patient experience, listening to patient voice, is an imperative in the new normal.

By: Tapan J. Ray  

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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