Adapt or die: The risks of not being patient centric

Written by Rosie Pigott

This is the second in a series of patient centricity blog posts. You may also be interested in the first article in the series – How digital is giving patients control of managing their care.

In a capitalist society, it is likely that we will always rely on the pharmaceutical industry to invest heavily in research and development to produce innovative medicines. Pharmaceutical companies have been the primary source of the world’s commercial drugs since their evolution from apothecaries in the mid-nineteenth century. Many of these companies have transformed unrecognisably since their inception; Eli Lilly began as a chemists in Indianapolis with three employees and today is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise selling products in 125 countries.

It is perhaps no surprise that the healthcare ecosystem has similarly evolved. Notably, the needs and expectations that patients have for pharmaceuticals are ever-increasing and in response, leading pharmaceutical companies are further specialising their products in a post-blockbuster age. Why then is the relationship between patients and pharma still so strained, and why are so few companies operating in a truly patient centric way?

There are many reasons why pharma continues to struggle with adapting their business models to put patients at the centre of their strategy and operations. They are faced with:

  • Re-engineering challenges

    Most companies can articulate their vision and commitment to patient centricity (e.g. Novartis’ Patient Declaration) but still have difficulty when it comes to re-engineering processes, systems and culture around the patient, which would involve major changes in all aspects of strategy and operations.

  • Discovery constraints

    Pharma is more constrained than other industries in terms of product development as so much is dependent on which substances are discovered in the laboratory. There is still significant scope, however, to engage patients better to understand the profile of treatments that would be most beneficial, protocol acceptability and their wider healthcare and service needs to compliment new drug offerings.

  • Risk aversion

    Although there are countless examples of patient collaborations and advisory boards with pharma, many companies are still unsure of how patients can be engaged effectively and compliantly across the product lifecycle, and how these inputs can be combined with other sources of patient insight to feed into the strategy.

Clearly, none of these areas for development are new. Pharma has been slowly moving across their patient centricity journey for many years, and very few would argue that becoming more customer centric shouldn’t be the direction of travel. But consider it from the other angle – what are the risks of not increasing the pace of change to embed patient centricity in an age where levels of customer focus have become the norm?

  • Tech takeover

    Innovative biopharma, biotech companies and other new healthcare sector entrants (such as Silicon Valley firms like Google) who are far more nimble and able to engage with their patients to personalise service offerings more effectively may become preferred providers and the future status quo for treatment development.

  • Opportunity loss

    If the primary customer is not involved early enough and across all stages of product development, pharma may miss valuable opportunities to develop truly differentiated products and services. These differentiated products will not only be necessary but could serve as a symbol of an improved relationship between patients and the public with the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Pricing pressure

    Following on from the point above, by not fully adapting to deliver treatments that truly meet the needs of patients (as well as their carers and healthcare providers) pharma companies may have reduced gravitas with payers in seeking preferable price points.

It is therefore not enough for companies to continue on a relatively slow trajectory of patient centricity with pockets of best practices within their organisations. Not accelerating the slow pace of change risks the industry being left behind – the time for revolution is now.

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