Co-inspiration: Listen and learn to overcome patient-centricity barriers

How can pharma move from a product- to a patient-centric mindset? By closing mouths and opening ears, according to Boehringer Ingelheim.

Patient centricity isn’t a box ticking exercise – it’s a mindset that has to run the entire length of the drug development pathway.

That’s according Carinne Brouillon Head of Human Pharma and member of the Board of Managing Directors at Boehringer Ingelheim, who spoke during a fireside chat on the topic, held at the online Reuter’s Events Pharma 2021 event.

It’s important to remember, she said, that without patients, the pharma industry would not exist.

“They are the inspiration for our work; they are the reason we go into the office every morning; they are at the heart of everything we do,” she said.

“Finding better treatments and solutions is for them, so it is essential to include them at every step along the way.”

How patient centricity is transforming the pharmaceutical industry

Patients are more empowered than ever before, and this is driving a shift within the industry, said Brouillon.

“Now, they are not only the focus of our business, but they are also our partners along the way. We need to engage with them if we are to develop new products and solutions that create better health for everyone,” she said.

Asked whether patient centricity was about informing patients more effectively or optimising pathways, she said it was both.

“The biggest part is co-creating our programmes with patients – but it is also co-inspiring,” she said.

“It is incredibly inspiring for teams to work with the patients on a new development programme, but I also hope we inspire patients to embrace their health, feel empowered, and see that the solution is in their hands.”

How are you making patient centricity a reality?

Like most heavily regulated industries, pharma is very process driven, but patient centricity requires the focus to be on outcomes, rather than tasks.

“We really had to change the way we think,” Brouillon said. “It’s asking ourselves ‘is what I am doing helping the patient or am I getting bogged down in internal processes?’.”

One example of patient centricity in action at Boehringer Ingelheim is how the company has changed its clinical trial communications policies, she said.

“Patients are experts in their disease, not in clinical development. A 30-page informed consent form, then, is probably not the best way to communicate the importance of a clinical trial, the science behind the study, and how they can be part of it.”

As such, the organisation now produces videos to be used as part of the consent process and to communicate the trial results at the end of the study. This removes barriers around scientific and legal language, and facilitates engagement.

Brouillon went on to note the importance of continuous feedback loops when designing initiatives.

Boehringer Ingelheim, for example, started the first remote clinical trial in depression after speaking to participants and learning they were finding it challenging to leave their homes for site visits.

“We were very proud of it. But after a few months we heard that people still wanted some live engagement. As well as digital tools and nurse visits, they sometimes wanted to see the doctor,” she said. “Now, we are changing our protocol to a blended solution.”

That form of open dialogue, she said, informs ongoing learning and improvement.

How do you cascade the mindset of patient centricity across a huge organisation?

It’s about understanding what we want to achieve and defining how to get there, said Brouillon, adding that it was a challenge to move from product- to a patient-centric business approach.

Brouillon said: “We all love our products, and we all think they are the best innovations in the universe. Being willing to confront that belief by asking for and listening to true feedback can be challenging.

“We are very used to talking, but we need to close our mouths and open our ears. In the past, we have had ad boards and consultations patients, but now that has to be much more systemic,” she said, using the example of “mock clinical trials”.

“It is incredibly inspiring for teams to work with the patients on a new development programme, but I also hope we inspire patients to embrace their health, feel empowered, and see that the solution is in their hands.”

During these exercises, patients and healthcare professionals go through every step of the process, from informed consent to site visits and patient-reported outcome questionnaires before the study to make sure it fits everyone’s needs.

“Our products may be great, but they are only strong through the data we generate. Engaging patients and doctors in that data generation makes us much more relevant, with better outcomes for everyone.”

Strong and consistent communication on the value of cocreation throughout the company helps staff at every level and in every business function to operate “with the voice of the patient in mind”.

How do you demonstrate the value of patient centricity?

There is no denying that a patient centric approach to clinical trials costs more, both in terms of time and money, than traditional methods.

“We are hopeful that as we learn, we get better results, a better understanding, and, in the end, better solutions for patients, and the additional costs will pay off,” said Brouillon.

“But we also need to focus on the fact that we are not in this alone. We should embark on this as an industry, but also with other partners – patients, advocacy groups, healthcare professionals, payors, and regulators – to make sure that we are all going in the right direction.”

This level of collaboration, she said, would ensure that we are not wastefully duplicating efforts.

About the author

Amanda Barrell

Amanda Barrell is a freelance health and medical education journalist, editor and copywriter. She has worked on projects for pharma, charities and agencies, and has written extensively for patients, HCPs and the public.