Patient centricity is becoming business critical for pharma

New book sets the pharmaceutical industry on a course for bridging the patient centricity optimism gap

Bridging the gulf between patient centricity ambition and reality has never been more important for pharma – luckily, this seemingly insurmountable goal isn’t as far out of reach as many envision.

That’s according to Sharon Suchotliff, patient centricity lead at consultancy firm ZS Associates, which has just published a book on the art of patient involvement.

“Patient centricity is not a new conversation in pharma. We have been talking about it for at least a decade, but movement has been slow. However, there are now many forces, both internal to pharma organisations and externally, within the wider healthcare ecosystem, that mean ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option,” she says.

“Regulators are strongly suggesting companies get patient input and really understand the patient experience. They are saying yes, you have a clinical outcome – but what else do you have? And that is driving change.”

‘The optimism gap’

In 2019, ZS Associates carried out a global survey of pharmaceutical companies to get a better idea of patient centricity perceptions and behaviours. It found what Suchotliff describes as an “optimism gap” between what employees thought was happening, and the reality on the ground.

This manifested itself in two ways, she tells pharmaphorum: “More than 90% of people said patient centricity was core to their business. But when we asked if the company was funding it, only 19% said yes.

“There were other discrepancies. Senior managers said their organisations were incredibly patient-centric, but middle managers, the people who are on the frontlines doing the work, said ‘yes, we have ambitions to be patient-centric, but we are not quite there yet’.”

There has been much progress in recent years, with companies increasingly working with patient advocacy groups (PAGs) to gather insights and implement projects. “But we have not yet gone far enough to make meaningful change,” says Suchotliff.

“You don’t have to do transformation with a capital T; you can start smaller and still have a really big impact.”

“The industry has been doing a better job at connecting with PAGs, but PAGs only reach specific patient populations. If we are trying to reach those who may have been marginalised in the past, we are going to have to take different approaches.

“We are going to have to partner with folks who play a big part in people’s lives, whether that’s the people who provide our smartphones, or community groups, for example.”

Business imperative

One of the barriers to change so far, Suchotliff believes, has been the lack of a business objective to do so. That is fast becoming an outdated view.

“The reality is that pharma has always been profitable as an industry, so there has been no business reason to change. Now, pipelines are changing, competition is increasing, and the return on investment of research and development is continuing to decline,” she says.

In addition, the regulatory landscape is fast reshaping itself to favour patient-centric drug development.

“We have tended to focus on the functional benefits of the product to demonstrate value, but we now live in the age of experience. There have been studies on the impact of patient experience on things like adherence, overall experience, and healthcare costs.

“Companies have to start making the connection between experience and impact, because impact means outcomes and that’s how we demonstrate value now.”

Inspiring change

The book, Reinventing Patient Centricity, aims to give the industry a hand. It details why pharma is taking so long to adopt patient centricity, why this needs to change, and outlines actionable steps companies can take to turn ambition into reality.

“There are tons of books out there on this topic for the lay person, for public health, providers, payers, etc., but there is not one that speaks to the pharmaceutical industry – which is very much an important player here. The information is out there, but it is in disparate places,” says Suchotliff.

“We wanted to write something that’s provocative; something that helps the industry see that change would be great for patients and great for business, and that it is not as daunting or impossible as it might seem sometimes.”

Making change

The publication, which includes examples and case studies from across the sector, offers a “well-rounded perspective” that Suchotliff hopes will act as an “inspiration for change”.

It shows that the organisations that have had the most success so far are those that have named patient centricity as a core business value, and built it into KPIs and incentives.

“But that’s not to say all is lost without senior management buy-in,” says Suchotliff.

“You don’t have to do transformation with a capital T; you can start smaller and still have a really big impact. You can, for example, start with a pilot project – but pick something meaty and make sure you can demonstrate impact.

“You may not convince your CEO tomorrow that they need to change their overall strategy, but change will come,” she says.