Q&A: Accenture’s Keena Patel on optimising patient engagement

We speak to Keena Patel, a managing director in Accenture’s Life Sciences practice, about how pharmaceutical companies can improve their game in patient engagement.

How has patient engagement changed over the last few years?

The biggest change has been an awakening to the importance of patient engagement. Digital is empowering and enabling more patients and people to engage more than ever before. Digital has changed how we think about the words “patient engagement”. Engagement needs to be relevant, convenient, and interesting, or patients will engage elsewhere.

And to be fair, this is not unique to our industry. Whether you are a pharma company or a car manufacturer or a fast food company, you can’t operate in isolation. You can’t make a product and say: “Here world, take it.” The rise of digital has meant that people speak out immediately and on platforms that reach thousands immediately. Reaching people and patients is easier now than it’s ever been, but we still see a push-communication mentality. Engagement today must-be two way.

I think many executives fear this a bit – they think engagement is only a pathway to complaints. But engagement is an opportunity. Patients have an opportunity to reach the very people who are providing them treatment solutions. Pharma companies have an opportunity to proactively reach out to patients and find out what they are thinking, and what they want. Many patients want to know more about new treatment options as they come to market, they want to have more input into treatment decisions, and they want to receive more personalised support because they feel their needs are unique.

“Only 47% of patients said pharma companies understood their emotional, financial and other needs related to their condition”

According to Accenture’s own survey, patients rank pharma companies as lowest in understanding them amongst healthcare players.

That’s why it’s an opportunity. Pharma companies need to listen to the feedback. According to our survey of 4,000 patients in the UK, US, France and Germany, only 47% of patients said pharma companies understood their emotional, financial and other needs related to their condition. Significant investments are flowing into creating unique and differentiated patient experiences, and there is still a very large opportunity for improvement. And I think pharma companies will improve on this front. They will see the benefits of interacting – building trust and learning more about their customer base is a win-win, and they will find ways to engage with patients compliantly.

And some are already collaborating with both patients and patient organisations to learn more about what is needed. Take UCB. It recently worked with Parkinson’s UK to carry out two patient engagement workshops. In one they looked at outcome measures and in the other they looked at the design of a clinical trial. They might not have expected the results, which is exactly one of the reasons you engage – to find out what you don’t know. They found that the researchers had been looking at helping with tremor or bladder problems but what patients really wanted was help slowing down the progress of the disease.

So many people are involved in treating a patient these days – their health care providers, caregivers, pharma companies, medical device companies, payers, pharmacies, advocacy groups/patient organisations – do you see a future where they all work collectively to provide more comprehensive, supportive care — perhaps even at a lower cost?

I do. I think winners and losers are being weeded out much more quickly, and what it takes to succeed with patients will require interventions that work. Intervening in a way that is aligned to how patients are consuming their medical, financial, and emotional support relative to their conditions. Adoption is a proxy for a few questions, such as: Does it make sense? Does it fit in with my life? Does it matter? And have you created an experience that adds value to my life?

And working collectively with other organisations can mean many things. There will continue to be reasons why firewalls between organisations are needed, but there will also be new ways to think about how one organisation might support another for the benefit of the patient.

One key partner for pharma in all of this is patient organisations. Pharma companies have an opportunity to reach out to patient organisations and find out what those organisations need and want, and how they bring together the competencies of themselves with others to create value for their patients. As we’ve discussed before, pharma companies could create more opportunities for patients sharing a condition to serve as the front-line of support for new patients coming onto therapy – that level of personalisation and connection would be welcomed by patients and also really help pharma genuinely connect.

We live in a digital world – these days if a person wants to know about a drug they can ask Alexa or Siri. It’s almost considered old-school at this point to ‘Google it’. How is this fast-changing, new world order, impacting pharmaceutical companies?

You are so right, times have changed rapidly.

Providing more personalised healthcare is a new frontier, but it’s going to become the norm. Our connected devices can generate individual data to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers that can help them design individually tailored drugs and patient care in the future. But it’s not just connected devices – it’s specialty drugs. As you know the proportion of New Molecular Entity (NME) approvals is on the rise, and many of these are specialty drugs.  

There is a lot of complexity for many patients when it comes to managing their health with specialty drugs. More and more patients need to know how to store their medications, how to check their products for quality, expiration, when to refill, how to administer their medications – many of which require filling syringes after cleaning vials, checking for air, cleaning the injection site before and after, and keeping track of when and how much drug was taken. That’s a lot of complexity and no-one really wants to or always can remember all the steps in the right order, every time. Human error, poor adherence, and product discontinuation are easy results of this complexity. And you can add to that the financial burdens many patients contend with, and the loneliness experienced because you don’t always have someone, the right person, that’s available at the moment you have a question or you need help. We’ve barely scratched the surface on how technology can help simplify these complexities for patients.

I recently learned that some patients that are taking infused therapies receive the wrong gauge needle from their specialty pharmacy, which results in their infused therapy taking longer. So rather than spending one hour taking their therapy, they need to spend two. This takes valuable time away from someone that already has a higher health burden. And many patients may not even realise this. There are interesting innovations being explored when it comes to smart needles, connected injectors, and technologies surrounding injectable and infused therapies and I look forward to when technology can help address this problem and problems like this and return more quality of life back to patients.

About the interviewee

Keena Patel is a managing director in Accenture’s Applied Life Sciences Solutions practice focused on helping clients find new value through patient and provider services.  She’s keen on helping to create a new vision for how industry engages with patients and providers to deliver experiences that are fulfilling – keeping in mind what really matters to the end customer. Keena is also responsible for Accenture’s annual patient and provider services research to bring new insights to the market.