Echoing many other industries, such as, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), pharmaceutical industry leaders, as well, have been talking about putting their customer at the center stage of strategic decision-making processes. In other businesses this grand intent is generally expressed as, ‘customer oriented’ or ‘customer-focused’, or ‘customer-driven’, besides several other similar expressions.
However, in the pharma industry this popular expression is widely talked about as ‘patient-centricity.’ Nonetheless, it is also generally believed that pharma leaders, weren’t hugely inclined to ‘walk this talk’ – until Covid-19 pandemic struck the world – very hard. In this article, I shall delve into this area, focusing on several aspects of it. Let me begin with, what COVID-19 has taught about pharma’s ‘patient-centricity’ efforts.
What COVID-19 has taught about pharma’s patient-centricity efforts:
A recent study, titled, ‘What COVID-19 has taught us about pharma’s patient centricity efforts,’ published by ZS on July 05, 2020, unravels some interesting findings in this area. Some of those points are as follows:
- ZS’ mid-2019 ‘Patient Centricity Industry Study’ had found nearly universal agreement about the importance and significance of being patient-centric.
- But the investment for the same did not match the intent, creating an “optimism gap” where senior leaders think more progress than middle the management.
- At that time, while 73 percent of participants agreed that ‘patient centricity’ is fundamental to their organization, only 16 percent said they understood their individual role in the organization’s ‘patient centricity’ initiatives.
- Whereas, during the past few months as the industry responds to Covid-19 pandemic, ‘pharma has demonstrated that it can quickly mobilize to surround and support patients, making the workforce focus on the patient priorities.
- Over the past three months, organizations were found to look at new ways to engage with patients. For example, patient panels to continually check in and monitor the impact on the patient experience, connecting with patient advocacy groups – to get a pulse on critical needs and leveraging the field force to hear from physicians where their patients need the most help.
- These companies are also investing now to understand the impact of Coronavirus on the patient and partner with others in the ecosystem.
Some interesting industry initiatives during Covid-19 pandemic:
This ZS study noted, several pharma companies are showing great flexibility and creativity in tapping into their combined expertise and skills to support patients and the healthcare community, in a time of need. Some of the interesting examples cited in the paper include:
- Pfizer rolled out a five-point plan, including an R&D SWAT team to support vaccine development.
- Lilly, Merck and others banded together to help employees with relevant skills, volunteer on the front lines of treatment
- Several other pharma companies have also joined with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to share data.
I hasten to add, according to this study, some industry leaders did agree that COVID-19 has proven that it’s possible to actually be more patient centric in business operations for better outcomes. However, many pharma players would still need to ‘walk this talk’ and put in hard work with adequate resources in getting there – the study noted.
Could ‘patient-centric pathway lead to post Covid-19 business recovery?
Just lip service on ‘patient-centricity’, as witnessed earlier, is unlikely cut any ice in the new normal, as people start living with the new Coronavirus, in everyday life. Making this more touted, but less practiced concept work on ground in pharma, is expected to be one of the effective pathways for early business recovery, as we move on.
The McKinsey article of May 12, 2020, titled ‘Pharma operations: The path to recovery and the next normal’ has also flagged this issue, alongside a few more. Similar to the findings of the above ZS study, this paper also noted that ‘leaders of operations in the pharmaceutical industry have been historically slow to respond to changing times. Interestingly, during COVID-19 pandemic, many of those leaders were found highly responsive to the new demand of time. They ‘rallied to enable the supply of key medicines across borders, manage workforce safety, and handle evolving government restrictions, while beginning to prepare for new vaccines and therapeutics, it noted.
More importantly, several companies have now put in place crisis-response command centers. These hubs play critical roles to appropriately manage and bring stability in an otherwise unstable time. From this experience, in my view, ‘patient-centricity’ could be an effective pathway to follow for post Covid-19 business recovery. Having said that, let me try to tighten some loose knots of understanding in this specific area, as below. To start with, let us together recapitulate a brief background of evolution of ‘patient-centricity’ concept in the drug industry.
“No decision about me, without me”:
Not so long ago, the National Health Service (NHS) of U.K realized that every patient should be as actively involved in making decisions about their health and health care as they wish to be. Accordingly, in 2012 it released the White Paper - ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS,’ setting out the U.K Government’s vision of an NHS that puts patients and the public first, where “no decision about me, without me” is the norm.
The concept of ‘patient centricity’ in the pharma industry is believed to have grown from the above concept. The core idea of the concept, as defined in a BMJ article is, “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”.
The authors envisage, effective implementation of the same would provide an opportunity for drug companies to adopt and use its core facets as reference points for patient engagement, throughout a product life cycle. In tandem, this also flags an important point: Why the concept of ‘patient-centricity’ is mostly talked so ‘passionately’ by almost all drug companies, while very few of them seem keen to ‘walk the talk?’
The key barriers to achieving ‘patient-centricity’:
The key puzzle on ‘Patient centricity: everyone wants it; not everyone gets it’, was well-deliberated by Reuters Events (Pharma), published on December 14, 2024. It pointed out – as an aim ‘patient-centricity’ is all too often overlooked, despite the fact that even several top pharma companies often express their desire to be patient centric organizations; such as:
- “Inspired by patients, driven by science” (UCB);
- “Science and patients…the heart of everything we do” (AstraZeneca);
- “A global integrated healthcare leader focused on patients’ needs” (Sanofi).
Analyzing the overall reasons for the same, the paper articulated: ‘Difficulties in communication with patients, skepticism about their input, and unwillingness to relinquish control are some of the barriers to achieving patient centricity.’ Interestingly, this situation remains generally unchanged even today.
Meanwhile, as recorded in the morning of September 06, 2020, total Coronavirus cases in India have reached a staggering figure of 4,113,811 with 70,679 deaths, despite every effort taken by the Government. As PTI reported on September 05, 2020: At the current pace, India will overtake Brazil early next week to become the country that has seen the second highest number of cases.’ With this perspective, let us now look at the concept of ‘patient-centricity’ for better treatment outcomes.
As deliberated earlier, just as providing affordable care for all – making ‘patent-centricity’ the centerpiece of the core business strategy for pharma, had remained akin to chasing the ‘Holy Grail’. This happened, despite last so many years one could easily spot inclusion ‘patient-centricity’ even in the corporate vision and mission statements of many drug companies.
As it appears today, the term ‘patient centricity’ remained another cliche, till Covid-19 disrupted the status quo of the old normal? But, will it last long? Only another robust study in the future, I reckon, will be able to confirm it. However, this would mostly depend on whether patients continue sending signals of: “No decision about me, without me,” for better health outcomes.
It’s not a terribly disputed fact, either that various stringent norms in the Covid lockdown period, have prompted many health care consumers switching from their good old health care practices, to the digital or online mode to meet with similar needs. Consequently, they are now becoming more digitally empowered than ever before. In this situation, leveraging AI with expert help, would help implement ‘patient-centricity’ more productively to meet challenges of the new normal.
If done with precision, it would help move even beyond ‘patient-centricity’ in the new normal, with better disease prevention or management and ‘connected healthcare,’ leading to better quality of lives for many. Thus, Covid-19 pandemic – pushing pharma to ‘Walk the Talk’ of ‘patient-centricity,’ if lasts long, could usher in a fundamental change in the health care space. It has demonstrated its huge potential during the ongoing pandemic to ensure patient-friendly, high quality, affordable and universal health care value delivery – for patients’ sake.
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.