For Patient-Centricity: Emerging a C-Suite Role

Regardless of skepticism of many, the formidable power of physicians to take all treatment decisions for patients, is gradually getting moderated, globally. Although, its pace may vary from country to country. An increasing number of more informed patients are carving out a greater role for themselves in this important process.

The central focus for brand demand generation can no longer remain just on the doctors. This is because, as I wrote this in my article, published in this Blog on July 06, 2015: “Slowly but steadily the process of taking treatment decisions for the patients is undergoing a metamorphosis, where well informed patients no longer want to play just a passive role. These patients want the doctors to take a final decision on their treatment only after meaningful interactions with them.” Besides a broad prescription pattern, this includes the medicines that they will consume, including meaningful details on product cost against the benefits to be accrued.

The age-old practice of doing a little bit on patient education or compliance, are grossly inadequate in an evolving new scenario. The good news is, many pharma companies have started realizing that appropriate engagement with patients to deliver what they want and more, can lead to better financial performance.

Consequently, the ball game for prescription demand generation is showing early signs of a change – somewhat radical in nature. To spearhead this unavoidable metamorphosis for the organization, there surfaced a brand-new role of a CxO – The Chief Patient Officers (CPO).

This new senior management position is expected to direct organizational focus on patients. Understand their concerns, needs, wants and goals, particularly in the disease areas where the company represents. And finally, give shape to new multichannel well-coordinated platforms of patient engagement, for better commercial returns. In this article, I shall try to explore how this transformation pans out, if at all.

The direction is right, but patients must feel the change:

As I said before, some pharma players have started accepting the reality. The crucial need for an organization to become ‘Patients-Centric’ can’t be wished away anymore. For example, a 2015 “Industry Healthcheck” survey where 1600 pharma executives participated, found that 85 percent of respondents agreed that ‘Patient-Centricity’ is the best route to improve profitability, in the fast changing business environment.

It is perhaps well understood that the pharma industry has arrived at this point due to increasing access of the general population to easily available, all-kind of information on the cyber space, including health care. The enabling facility has already prompted many patients evaluating various treatment options for a disease, including choice of drugs and their cost.

As a result, pharma companies felt the necessity to have a new leader who will give a new perspective and direction in creating a new value for the organization, for a sustainable progress. This involves charting a comprehensive pathway to gradually shift the entire company focus on ‘patients for products’, and not on ‘products for patients.’

According to reports, a few global pharma majors, such as Merck and Sanofi already have their CPO in place, but patients are yet to feel any difference on the ground even for these companies, as many say.

What exactly is ‘Patient-Centricity?’ – Two perspectives:

It won’t be a bad idea to get to know two different perspectives on what ‘Patient-Centricity’ exactly is – one from a CPO and the other from patient groups, as follows:

A. 3 three pillars of ‘Patient-Centricity’ from the CPO perspective:

To get a ringside perspective to this question from the industry, let me quote from the first CPO - Anne C. Beal appointed in a top-10 pharma – Sanofi, on March 31, 2014, though the CPO position is in existence, since 2012.

On December 2014, at the 11th annual Patient Summit USA conference, Anne Beal, reportedly deliberated on the three pillars of her company’s patient-centric strategy, which I shall describe, as follows:

  • Utilizing patients’ input to get a better sense of their needs in order to design and deliver solutions that help fulfill them.
  • Engaging and supporting patients to ensure the solutions that the company delivers help enhance their lives and improve outcomes.
  • Involving with the company employees and supporting them to create an engaged community and patient-centric culture.

B. 9 attributes of ‘Patient-Centricity’ from the patients’ perspective:

Patient View’ – a UK-based research, publishing, and consultancy group, arrived at the ‘9 Key Attributes’ of ‘Patient-Centricity’. This is based on the analysis of feedbacks (2016-17) from 2,000 patient groups worldwide, 50+ different medical specialties in 100+ countries. The critical attributes of the same that patients want to see in a drug company can be summarized, as follows:

  • Demonstrate integrity and authenticity through all company actions.
  • Understand all the issues that patients face ‘beyond the pill’ and help in dealing with them.
  • Transparency in drug pricing policy, research, results, funding relationship.
  • Ensure that all patients are included in access strategies, regardless of the returns to the company.
  • Products to provide quantifiable value to patients.
  • Reliable supply and comprehensive patient safeguard.
  • Provide quality product information – Consistent, current, balanced and usable.
  • Patient group relation – good intention, effective governance, communication and training.
  • Ensure patients are engaged and their opinions are sought at each stage of R&D.

On a broader canvas, the two perspectives on ‘Patient-Centricity’ – one from the CPO and the other from the patients’ groups, do have some important similarities. Nevertheless, I reckon, the CPOs would still need to cover more ground to match patients’ expectations from a ‘Patient-Centric’ pharma company. 

Claimants of ‘patient-centric’ focus are many, but few deliver consistently:

Quite expectedly, there are many claimants for a ‘patient-centric’ organizational focus. Interestingly, few actually deliver consistently. This was vindicated in the article – ‘How patient-centric is the pharma industry’, published by PDD - a design and innovation consultancy firm on June 06, 2016.

The paper indicates both the up and downside of pharma company claims on ‘Patient-Centricity.’ The upside is that the hype has influenced, at least, some drug players to openly talk about the need to shift the company focus more on patients. A few have initiated some tangible action, as well. Whereas, the downside of it is the lack of consistency in the enthusiasm of ‘patient-centric’ actions by these companies. To illustrate the point, let me quote the following two examples from the article:

  • In the 2013 survey on ‘Patient-Centricity’ by the research firm ‘Patient View’, ViiV Healthcare (the GSK & Pfizer joint venture focused on HIV therapies), Gilead, AbbVie, Menarini and Janssen occupied the top 5 spots.
  • However, in the ‘eyeforpharma Barcelona Awards 2016 ’ that too focuses on ‘Patient-Centricity’, none of these companies featured in the “Most Valuable Patient Initiative or Service” category. Whereas, Sanofi took the top spot, and Merck, Roche, Novartis and TEVA were the remaining nominees.

The criteria of the two selection processes, apparently being similar, this is interesting. More so, when the ‘patient-centric’ focus of an organization is an ongoing strategy, with a ‘top priority’ tag attached to it.

Be that as it may, that some serious efforts being made by a few companies in this area, can’t be brushed aside, either, regardless of the fact that the CPO position came into existence, since 2012. It flagged, at that time, the criticality of ‘Patient-Centricity’ in the pharmaceutical business and possibly, sent a signal to pharma players for a course correction, in this direction, soon enough.

Conclusion:

In an interview, published in December 2016 issue of McKinsey Quarterly, LEO Pharma’s president and CEO, Gitte Aabo, aptly summarized the process of ‘Patient-Centricity’, as follows:

“Patient-Centricity means being deeply entrenched in the patient’s needs, not just thinking about how to develop new products and new features. It means reaching out to patients and considering treatments that will help them in whatever situation they find themselves in.”

However, since long, most drug manufacturers are apparently solely driven by commercial considerations, both for new drug discovery and also in generic product development. Subsequent marketing strategies are obviously an integral component of the same organizational thought leadership and value chain. Several examples from the current status of the R&D pipeline for multi-drug resistant antibiotics, or what is happening even with the generic drug pricing in many countries, including the United States, will vindicate this point.

That said, a mild wind of change on the sails of traditional pharma mindset seems to be slowly catching up, as some CPOs position themselves in the saddle. Hopefully, this will  ultimately make patients the centerpiece of pharma business. Can more of this kind of actions be construed as signals for imbibing ‘Patient-Centricity’ by the drug companies? Will its impact be visible and felt by all – in real life, soon?

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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