Pharma: embrace patient insight

Views & Analysis

Industry and regulators are starting to wake up to a brave new world where technology and innovation will drive the direction of healthcare and fully utilise patient engagement for improved outcomes.

"Pharma needs to let the patient help" was the overriding message from the Healthcare Busi-nesswomen's Association (HBA) European Leadership Summit meeting recently, reflecting the dramatic shift from a traditional model of uninformed and passive individuals to a future where patients are engaged at every level of the medicines lifecycle.

Technology, innovation and data are the central tenets in this evolution and will help trans-form a landscape where currently a staggering one-third of US healthcare spend does not im-prove health, noted speaker Silvia Ondategui-Parra, partner, market access global leader & Mediterranean head Healthcare and Life Sciences at Ernst & Young (E&Y).

But while data forms part of this new healthcare currency, 80% of clinically-relevant medical information is highly unstructured and, up to now, has been used primarily for descriptive purposes, she pointed out. Increasingly, though, this is moving to both predictive analytics (what will happen) and prescriptive analytics (how to make it happen).

Patients are looking for high-quality, affordable care – and starting to demand this in real-time. Although it's early days, pharma and regulators are starting to wake up to this brave new world with recent initiatives like the GetReal campaign – a European-wide public-private consortium comprising pharma, regulators, academia and patient organisations – designed to develop new ways to use and include real-world clinical data earlier in drug development and ultimately to allow healthcare decision makers a greater level of certainty when providing pa-tients with access to new medicines.

Engage, don't sell

Engaging in this conversation will ultimately create a more fully developed and connected relationship and partnership between all the various stakeholders in health, Roberto Ascione, chief executive of communications agency Healthware International, told the HBA meeting in a panel session on the use of digital in pharma. "Social media is not a place to sell," he stat-ed. "It's a place to engage around disease awareness, to inform and engage the patient, and to educate them to take their medicines correctly."

Indeed, it was suggested that if pharma applied the same rigour to improving how patients take their medicines as it does to clinical trials then adherence rates would benefit dramatical-ly. Another critical and challenging element of clinical trials – recruiting patients – could also be better effected using social media, said Nils Drews, chief medical officer of Clariness. "Patients want to be listened to, to share and to be able to influence decisions upstream," he argued in the session.

But, although most organisations are starting to develop and use a digital channel – often to engage with their employees – "very, very few are using social media to get closer to pa-tients," E&Y's lead for digital transformation Adlai Goldberg told the HBA audience. A primary reason often given for pharma's caution in taking huge strides into digital relates to adverse event monitoring, but "we are starting to see some brave organisations," Goldberg stressed, "it just needs to be done in a way that pharma feels comfortable with the govern-ance involved."

'Monumental' value

And the upside is huge. For example, one global pharma company recently took the step to perform listening across all channels (not just its own) for all its products. "The increase in adverse events was less than 2%," Goldberg added, and the value of the listening exercise was "monumental" for the company concerned, allowing it to not only engage with patients, but to better understand their needs.

Ultimately, to create meaningful partnerships built around the patient, pharma needs to take a risk, stop seeing the hurdles and help people to better health using digital. As Silja Chouquet, owner and CEO of Whydot, commented: "We have to stop saying we are patient centric without the patient."

The Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) is a global, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to furthering the advancement and impact of women in the business of healthcare. For more information visit:

About the author:

Claire Bowie is Editorial Director at pharmaphorum. She has extensive experience in healthcare communications and publishing, supported by a background in biological sciences.

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