Pharma’s post-COVID opportunity to improve patient outcomes

The immediate threat to patient care from COVID-19 has diminished with the passing of the acute phase of the pandemic, but its impact continues to be stubbornly significant.

After placing unprecedented pressure on health systems for two years and more, patient backlogs in Europe could take six years to clear and there’s still much unknown about ‘long COVID’ or even the virus’ links with other conditions like diabetes.

To help alleviate the situation, health services are thinking creatively about how to cut waiting lists, while also looking for technological solutions to improve access to services and care.

Pharma also needs to continue to do all it can. As patients seek to become more informed about, and involved in, their own healthcare, their health outcomes are closely related to the pharmaceutical industry’s success at engaging with them.

Meeting patients’ needs and expectations

But when it comes to meeting patient needs, there are signs that the industry is falling short.

We collaborated recently with the online patient community Carenity to survey nearly 550 patients across Europe and the US on whether pharma-created services and information meet their expectations in terms of being trusted, accurate, personal, simple, and up to date. They don’t.

Our research put patients in the role of the ‘customer’ to assess the customer experience (CX) the industry provides. Overall, a weak ‘Fair’ ranking was all that could be achieved – not ‘Good’ and certainly not ‘Excellent’.

This matters because meeting patient expectations and providing great experiences have a clear impact on what patients choose to do. ‘Excellent’ CX leads to favourable behaviour: 12% of respondents said they would save the information provided, 11% would request additional support, and 9% would actually enrol in the program or service.

Meanwhile, the same survey found that patients reporting a ‘Poor’ CX were more than twice as likely to simply do nothing, compared to those receiving an ‘Excellent’ CX.

‘Poor’ CX also made it more likely that patients would tell their carer, friends, or family about the experience, while almost completely eliminating the possibility of patients enrolling in a given programme or service.

There is an additional impact on health decision-making. CX can improve patient health via benefits in decision-making, disease management, and treatment effectiveness. Excellent CX additionally makes it significantly more likely patients will view their medicines or therapies favourably.

Exceeding patient expectations

This all adds up to a concrete way to quantify improvements in patient-centricity. So, as companies continue to strive towards that, there are important opportunities available by listening better to patients’ expectations.

Firstly, pharma needs to invest more time in truly understanding what patients are going through and what support is needed. This might include working to understand what information worked and what needs further improvement in terms of format, simplicity, or practical usability of content. In some cases, this might require basic operational data on, for example, the relevance of a service or the simplicity of a channel.

Secondly, with that understanding in place it can then be used to design innovative services or technology products to help empower patients on their journey. While the answer to any patient engagement problem is not necessarily another app or another website, effective and relevant technology can be hugely beneficial.

Thirdly, there’s continual room for improvement in how pharma engages with, and supports, patients on their healthcare journeys. Companies should regularly seek input from patient organisations – particularly around those organisations’ perennial focus areas of disease understanding, diagnosis, and patient experience. Firms should also benchmark their progress on a regular basis with some form of patient engagement score as a KPI.

If pharma can operate at the speed of digital, it has a significant post-COVID customer experience opportunity. Now’s the time to seize it.

About the author

Dominic-TyerDominic Tyer is a research director at DT Consulting, an Indegene company. He has more than 20 years of pharmaceutical business research and publishing experience at leading industry titles and is an influential author on the digital transformation of the healthcare sector.