Pharma: Is Your Brand Patient-Centered? 5 Critical Success Factors.

[As originally posted in MedAd News, November 2009]

Almost every pharma company likes to think of itself as
“patient-centric,” but prescription brands can become
patient-centered only by putting consumers at the heart of their business model through every stage of product development and deployment and by focusing relentlessly on patient experience and outcomes. This means integrating tough consumer questions and learning into every phase of commercialization. Consumers increasingly demand direct communication and they expect the kind of standards to which they are accustomed in other industries. This is a major challenge, with substantial rewards awaiting those who find their way.

Adopting five critical success factors improves success. Marketers must put patients at the center of every decision right from the beginning; translate clinical benefits to real
world health grains; encourage a more collaborative relationship between doctor and patient; improve patient and caregiver experience through the treatment pathway; and take nothing for granted, understanding that even small details can be meaningful to patients and families.

A newcomer might wonder why pharma needs reminding to center on the patient; it’s a stated part of virtually every company mission. Traditionally,
patients were not viewed as the primary customer—physicians were, and in some ways still are. New drugs were positioned to get maximum uptake and support of the primary gatekeepers: healthcare professionals, who were thought to know their patients. New products reaching their primary end points without safety issues were launched to physicians. While consumer companies can more easily design desired product features and benefits into the development process, drug
recovery is fraught with special hurdles, plus limitations of what benefits new
prescription or biologic entitles deliver in clinical use. As a result, many compounds fail before FDA approval. 

Historically, development and commercialization was largely led by physicians and clinical experts. Marketing’s voice carried less weight, often came late, and focused largely on physicians. Also, because physician-focused sales people were often promoted into marketing functions, they brought little consumer expertise. Increasingly, hospitals and payers have become important customers.  And with the exponential growth of generics and with healthcare reform looming, business models are morphing to accommodate hospitals and payers faster than the shift to patients and caregivers.

U.S. healthcare is encountering the Information Age and Web 2.0, slowly and painfully shifting from a physician, sales-driven approach toward “patient centered” and market-driven. This reflects a growing recognition that incorporating individuals’ perspective
and greater involvement in healthcare results in better outcomes and satisfaction. Patients make the ultimate decision about whether they will live healthy, fill prescriptions, and adhere to prescribed medications. Social media platforms connect consumers to each other and encourage health information sharing. Companies and brands are publicly assessed. Dialogues include patient-caregiver experience, efficacy, cost, and side effects, and will likely include one or more conversations with a physician. Consumerism was, and in many ways still is, an unpleasant surprise for pharma. Business and marketing practices, while improving, have not caught up.

So the question remains, what will it take for the industry to get current?
To win at the five critical success factors, marketers need to put the patient at the center of decisions at critical junctures along the clinical and commercialization pathway as early as Phase l and Phase ll of development. Early and more integrated cross-functional teams are more likely to succeed. Companies should establish high standards right from the start, including a focus on translating clinical benefits to real-world health gains and staying
true to the Six C’s: Content with context; Conversation; Customization; Community Connectedness; Confidence Creation; and Consistent Commitment.

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Design credit for patient-centered image: Courtney Justice/The Cournell Group