Is the Role of Pharma to Engage with Patients?

Friday, 26th June 2020

Guest blog by Balaji Kuppuswamy, Director of Consulting Services – Life Sciences at CGI.

Recently I have been considering an important question arising from the pharmaceutical industry: is it the role of pharma to engage with patients? While I believe the answer to this question is largely ‘Yes’, I think it is important to take a status check from our peers in the industry first.

Portland has completed an interesting analysis on perceived value against actual value, delivered by a number of industries1. Against perceived value and actual value delivered amongst producers, pharma has the largest gap, second only to real estate. The ‘pharma’ brand suffers from misinformation, pricing issues and bad press around issues such as the Opioid crisis. Back in 2008, if the same analysis had been done, banks would have had a much bigger gap than pharma today. If banks have managed to narrow the gap, what has stopped the pharma industry achieving the same success?

So the question becomes, what is the defining factor? In my opinion, it is all about ‘Customer Engagement and Experience’. As the recent Salesforce connected customer report 20192 shows, customer experience has become one of the defining factors for consumer satisfaction, along with customer engagement through omni-channel touchpoints, as well as the availability of correct and reliable information. If you change the word ‘Customer’ to the word ‘patient’ in the below view, the defining factor becomes ‘patient Experience’. If industries such as banking can work the experience factor and transform, why not pharma?

Patients: Then and Now

In the good old days, it was easy for pharma to control information and engage with the Healthcare Professionals (HCPs). For patients, trusted sources of information for treatment and management of diseases were harder to come by – mainly limited to HCPs and families/friends. This model worked.

However, with the advent of www, Dr Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram, there has been a paradigm shift in the way patients engage with and manage their diseases. Needless to say, pharma continues to face an uphill battle as they have not transformed as with other industries in patient. From a patient standpoint, it’s more about the journey to good health, while pharma tends to focus on the ‘pill’.

Pharma has done good work as an industry by engaging patients through patient Advocacy/Organisations, partnering in care management and being part of patient access programmes. However, are there other approaches beyond these that pharma can embrace?

So why not take an outside-in view and leverage learning from other industries?

Starbucks, Sephora, Nike, Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, Southwest Airlines, Disney….

Recognise these brands?

Of course you do. They have become globally successful because they embody ‘Customer First’ or ‘Customer Centricity’. Driving their success are the below key attributes:

  • Focus on emotions, by creating a great experience and generating loyalty
  • Smart messaging to a target demographic
  • Huge investment in understanding the customer; they are always-on and expect personalisation
  • Mapping every touchpoint across the customer ecosystem/channels and engagement
  • Creating communities, as, after all, humans are social creatures

A case in point is Starbucks, who amplify and embody all of the above sentiments, showing that it is not always just about the product you’re looking to sell (in their case coffee) – Starbucks exemplify the ‘customer first’ principle.

Now we need to consider what the pharma industry can replicate from these successes.

  1. Understand the patient ecosystem, which is almost always centred around the ‘journey to good health’ – it is the experience that counts and not just the pill
  2. Humans are social after all – the key is engaging the patient through community and strong engagement with patient advocacy and organisations
  3. Go omni-channel; your patients are and will expect you to be too
  4. Make every touch-point count by creating meaningful engagement through the right experience and journey

What does the future hold for pharma, and will it be primarily focused on patient engagement?

The pharma industry can replicate the success of other industries in augmenting customer (patient) experience by embracing digital and emerging technologies, which would create several patient engagement opportunities. Pharma–patient engagement could be more successful through marrying the right tech to disease category. The next important factor for success is to focus on what they are good at, and collaborate with emerging tech organisations to optimise and leverage the best of tech. Some of the emerging tech collaboration opportunities are listed below:

  1. VR, AR, MR: To provide immersive patient engagement and education
  2. mHealth: To enable connected patients access to an ‘always-connected’ physician through application of telehealth, apps and portals
  3. Blockchain: Would connect patients, providers, researchers and developers in delivering the true potential of health tech
  4. Wearable tech: This could enhance disease management and patient engagement/compliance
  5. AI/ML: This has the potential to augment diagnosis, provide actionable insights and enhance patient experience through precision medicine and preventive healthcare
  6. Digital Therapeutics: Enabling the change to aiding patient engagement and management of their health/disease

The final question remains: Should the future of pharma contain better, more meaningful engagement with patients?

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