Does ‘Patient-Centricity’ Now Sound Like A Cliché?

Today, many pharma companies claim ‘patient-centricity’ as one of their primary focus areas in business. Many industry experts, as well, have been advocating so, over a period of time. A number of research studies, published during the last several years, also recommended that ‘patient centricity’ should be the key focus area for long-term sustainability of any pharma business, across the world, including India. In the fast unfolding scenario of date, this is absolutely essential to keep pace with the changing needs and aspirations of a new generation of well-informed patients.

Currently, one can easily spot inclusion ‘patient-centricity’ even in the corporate vision and mission statements of many drug companies, especially those with global footprints. But the question arises, how efficient is its implementation in the field?

In this article, I shall try to fathom whether patients are in sync with pharma’s claim of moving towards this goal, or the term ‘patient centricity’ just sounds like a cliché, at least, as of now. Let me start by giving a brief perspective of the subject to illustrate the point, why it represents a fundamental shift in the healthcare space.

‘Patient-centricity’ – a fundamental shift in healthcare space:

As I discussed in my article, titled ‘Increasing Consumerism: A Prime Mover For Change in Healthcare’: ‘Patients’ longing for better participative treatment experience at an affordable cost, has started gathering momentum as a major disrupting force in the healthcare space of India, as well.

This is a fundamental shift in the healthcare space, especially in terms of patients’ behavior, needs, aspirations and expectations while charting across any end-to-end treatment process. This change is taking place over the last couple of decades, pushing many pharma players to adopt a ‘patient-centric’ approach for greater sustainability in the business.

‘Patient-centricity’ has started occupying the center stage in the successful pharma business, as patients are becoming more and more informative. The reasons for this change are many. I have already discussed many of these, along with suggestions on corrective measures, in my various articles, published in this blog on the subject.

What’s happening on the ground?

Drug manufacturers’ various strategic communications aimed at stakeholders, signal that the ball has started rolling. According to a report, well-known pharma majors, such as Novartis, GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutical, UCB, LEO Pharma, among others, are actively participating in conversation on ‘patient-centricity.’ Apace with, a number of research studies also point towards a clear dichotomy, and a glaring disparity between drug companies’ claims and people’s perception of ‘patient-centricity’ in real life. Let me first touch upon the glaring dichotomy in this area.

A glaring dichotomy exists:

That more organizations are becoming more ‘patient-centric’, will get captured by the increasing trust of patients – both on the individual companies and also the pharma industry, in general. But today, what we witness is a clear dichotomy between the claims of many pharma companies of being ‘patient-centric’ and the declining patients’ trust, along with dented reputation and image of the industry, in general.

Declining public trust towards pharma industry is also evident from increasing consumerism in the healthcare space, besides stringent policy and price regulatory measures being taken by various governments, across the world. It also significantly increases their cost of advocacy with governments, through their own trade associations. Either patients pay for such avoidable costs indirectly, by paying higher drug price, or the pharma players absorb its impact with reduced margin, which is also avoidable.

This gets reinforced by another measure of disparity. It also points to the widening gap between drug companies’ claim on becoming ‘patient-centric’ – together with their employee perceptions on the same, and the reality as experienced by patients. Let me illustrate this point below by quoting from another recent research study.

Measuring disparity between the claim and reality:

Interestingly, the August 2018 annual benchmarking survey carried out by the Aurora Project, also finds a disparity in perception and reality related to the much often-used terminology – ‘patient-centricity’. Aurora Project is a non-profit group, founded by eyeforpharma and Excellerate. It is made up of more than 200 health sector leaders from around the world, with an objective ‘to move ‘patient-centricity’ from words to actions and outcomes’.

The study was conducted between July and November 2018. It covered 1,282 respondents, which include patients, HCPs and employees from biopharmaceutical and medical device companies. Expert perspectives were obtained from senior managers working with 10 of the world’s leading pharma companies, and views from specialists in behavior change and organizational psychology.

The respondents were asked to score the degree of ‘patient-centricity’ in pharma across 10 metrics, and patients consistently rated companies lower than industry employees. Some of the important findings that came out clearly while measuring the disparity between pharma’s claim and the reality, are as follows:

  • In total, 72 percent of employees agreed with the statement “my company communicates with care and compassion, transparent and unbiased information on diseases, treatment options and available resources”.

- Whereas only 32 percent of patients agreed with the equivalent statement.

  • More than half (53 percent) of the employee participants said they were “actively looking for what to do and how to teach” patient centricity.

- Whereas only 22 percent said they knew “exactly what to do

- And 16 percent said they “didn’t know what to do or how to teach it”.

  • Only 36 percent of the patients surveyed indicate that they have “quite a bit” or “a lot” of trust in the pharmaceutical industry overall.

The survey brought to the fore, while people believe in the importance of pharma delivering on its ‘patient-centered’ mission, most are not confident in pharma’s ability to deliver.

Most companies focus sharper on meeting short-term goals than ‘patient-centricity’:

That most companies focus sharper on achieving short term goals than ‘Patient-centricity’, as also captured unambiguously in the above survey, as it noted:

  • 90 percent of survey participants employed by biopharmaceutical and medical device companies agree that a long-term focus is key to the success of patient- centric efforts. However, the need for a long-term view is sometimes at odds with business realities, and 53 percent agree that their companies are mostly concerned about results this quarter (9 percent) or this year (44 percent).

Thus, there is a clear need for not just of ‘patient-centricity’, but also an appetite for it among those best placed to make it happen. Therefore, the question to ponder for pharma companies is: How best to be ‘patient-centric’? While trying to ferret out a robust answer to this question, many domain experts suggest that ‘patient centricity’ demands a fundamental shift in the cultural mindset of the organization.

Demands a fundamental shift in corporate cultural mindset:

As I pointed out in several of my articles in the past, the need for creating an appropriate ‘patient-centric’ corporate cultural mindset is to reverse the organizational pyramid. This means transforming the business from being product focused to patient focused.

That ‘patient-centricity’ demands a shift in the corporate cultural mindset within the pharmaceutical industry, was also emphasized in the article published in the Journal of Therapeutic Innovation & Regulatory Science (TIRS) onMarch 28, 2017, titled ‘Patient Centricity and Pharmaceutical Companies: Is It Feasible?’

Elaborating this point further, the paper said that at the highest level, it involves listening to and partnering with the patient, and understanding the patient perspective, rather than simply inserting patient views into the established process. Aided by the top management, the answers to the following questions on ‘patient-centricity’ should be crystal clear to all employees:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • How should we do it?
  • What are the results we aim to achieve?

Conclusion:

Quoting the December 2012 NHS document, the essence of ‘patient-centricity’ may be expressed as – ‘making “no decision about me, without me” a reality, all along the patient pathway: in primary care, before a diagnosis, at referral and after a diagnosis.’ This is applicable to all in the healthcare space, equally, including the pharma industry. There doesn’t seem to be any alternative to it, either. Which is why, ‘patient-centricity’ is emerging as a ‘take it or perish’ type of a situation for all pharma players. It may not happen immediately, but eventually it would certainly form the bedrock of pharmaceutical business.

Probably due to this reason, ‘patient-centricity’ has become a new a new buzz word to demonstrate how a pharma player is keeping pace with time. Consequently, more and more companies are joining this chorus of informing the stakeholders that ‘I am game’. Be that as it may, the core concept of ‘patient centricity’ is still not yet getting properly translated into better patient outcomes, through actionable strategies on the ground.

There are several studies on the measurement of ‘patient centricity’. The Aurora Project, as discussed above, is one such. It clearly brings out that there is still a significant gap between words and actions of many drug companies on ‘patient-centricity’. Consequently, a large number of patients are still unable to reap the consequential benefits of ‘patient centricity’, the way it is publicized by several companies. Despite this, the terminology continues to be overused, sans proper application of mind to translate the pharma’s good intent into reality.

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.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.