A room with a view: patient centricity

Alex Butler


Continued from “A room with a view: Wikipedia – a simple strategy for pharma?

If we want to put patients first, tactics before strategy is the noise of defeat.

There is little doubt that one of the hot topics of 2011 so far within the world of pharmaceuticals has been how to put patients ‘at the heart’ of the business. This obviously has many different interpretations and is a meaningless phrase without any real understanding of how this can be applied.

The ability to access real people and real conversations easily, dynamically and at a low cost has opened the door to greater understanding of real needs, fears, hopes and aspirations. As usual within the field of pharmaceutical social media, this can be articulated and applied badly.

Society has been changed irrevocably by the internet. Over the last 2 years we have seen this change quicken in pace. Some of the early thought leader’s predictions regarding the impact of the information ‘flood’ are beginning to take shape. The even more powerful vibrations of groups forming to help each other through sharing, conversation and active collaboration are being felt by those working in healthcare.

“Some of the early thought leader’s predictions regarding the impact of the information ‘flood’ are beginning to take shape.”

At a Pharmaceutical Marketing Society event I chaired this week, Joanne Shaw, Chair of NHS Direct stated that the internet has dramatically changed the relationship between doctors and patients. This is true, but it has dramatically changed the relationship between all those of us who belong to the broad healthcare community.

Unfortunately I wonder if pharma is grasping the enormity of the change. Instead of understanding what the impact this group action will have not just on how people manage their health but also in redefining clinical data and broad scientific research, there has been a rush to tactical projects based on abstract objectives: listening, understanding and engaging. In reality this change could blow apart some of the old models employed by pharmaceutical companies.

The problem at the moment was encapsulated sometime in the late sixth century BC by the Chinese General and Author Sun Tzu:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

I completely understand that for pharmaceutical companies it will take time for culture and business practice to meet the needs of a fast changing society. However if we want to put patients at the heart of what we do it needs to go well beyond testing company defined hypothesis by collating conversation and technically defined sentiment around disease / therapy areas or our business / products. I can already see that this can so easily be consciously or unconsciously manipulated to support any decision.

Like the interpretation of any conversation, people often hear what they want hear.

This is not meant to be an argument against listening to and understanding better the real concerns of people. Both the ADHD YouTube project and the Psoriasis 360 campaigns I was involved with in Janssen demonstrated to me how powerful conversation and collaboration can be. It enabled us to face head on controversies surrounding ADHD and harness negative comment for good. With psoriasis it is very powerful for us to be close to people helping and supporting each other. It also demonstrated that in order for this to work we needed content and tools which added value to the community.

“It enabled us to face head on controversies surrounding ADHD and harness negative comment for good.”

I really believe that the long-term strategy for pharmaceutical companies with social media should be to understand and participate in online communities. This is wide ranging in scope but is focussed on defined information systems:-groups with an identity and a shared purpose from which data and interaction can have a context and a collective purpose.

On one level this can be explained by the theory of a ‘community of practice’ defined by cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger as a group of people who share an interest /craft or a profession and who come together broadly to improve their skills, knowledge and understanding. In the online environment this has been made not only very easy and at near to or zero cost, it has also dramatically increased the scale of participation.

Within healthcare these communities of practice, whether open in forums or social networks such as facebook or twitter or closed such as PatientsLikeMe and Cure Together will enable the collation and practical application of big data in a way not envisaged a decade, or maybe even 5 years ago.

Just as a community of practice on flickr enables professional photographic techniques to filter into every day amateur practice in weeks or months rather than the years it took beforehand, the same impact can be expected in health. The management of disease and the translation of the latest evidence based practice from the scholar and academic to the consulting room could have a dramatically shortened timeframe.

For me this should be the focus. How can pharma play an active role? Partnerships with communities like PatientsLikeMe have massive potential not only to help us ‘understand’ the patient more butit has the capacity to improve the management and treatment of disease in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.

That is how you build trust and put the patient at the heart of your business. Imagine the impact that this could have on post-marketing research and even on the earliest phases of research and development? I can already see that clinical trial endpoints traditionally constructed around perceived marketing requirements may be better constructed around patient, professional and corporate needs.

So my plea is that rather than expecting operational communications and marketing professionals to drive the social revolution, with the consequence of tactical short-term interventions, we need the most senior scientific, medical and business leaders within pharma to grasp the real potential of the social age.

**The views within this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Janssen**

Part 2 of this article can be viewed here.

About the author:

Alex Butler is a global thought leader in health care social media for the pharmaceutical industry with the implementation of a number of innovative projects, including the UK’s first pharma twitter account and the world’s first facebook disease community with open comments and post moderation. He is a regular speaker and writer for the pharmaceutical, marketing, communications and technology press. According to John Mack, Alex is the most followed pharmaceutical company employee on twitter in the world and was the inaugural recipient of the Pharmaguy Global Social Media Pioneer award in 2010.

Alex currently works for Janssen as EMEA Marketing Communications Manager, part of the Johnson &amp, Johnson Strategic Marketing team.

Passionate about new marketing and advertising models Alex is an invited member of the Wharton University Future Of Advertising Global Advisory Board, based in Philadelphia.

Connect with Alex on twitter and also on Linkedin

How can pharma put patients at the heart of the business?