How to Achieve Patient-Centricity in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Patient Centricity | Pharma | PeopleMetrics LIVE

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Trusted Experience Management Partners

How to Achieve Patient-Centricity in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Pharma marketing teams use phrases like "patient-centric," "patient focused," and "patient first" all the time - but what does a patient centered approach actually look like in the pharmaceutical sector?

We're kicking off a series of PeopleMetrics LIVE! - Pharma Patient Support Services sessions where we'll talk exclusively about tangible ways to achieve patient-centricity in the pharmaceutical industry.

In this first session, we define patient centricity once and for all (hint: it's similar to customer centricity!), and reveal the best way to become truly patient-centric while simultaneously elevating patient experience every day.


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Sean McDade: I've created this term called "Pharma CX," and there are three specific activities that the best pharma companies are doing today to really become patient-centric. And I would say fulfill this "Pharma CX," as I'm calling it, mindset...


Madeline Good: Hi everyone, welcome to PeopleMetrics LIVE! Today, we're kicking off a series of PeopleMetrics LIVE! - Pharma Patient Support Services sessions where we're going to be talking exclusively about tangible ways to achieve patient-centricity in the pharmaceutical industry. Why are we doing this? Well, our Founder and CEO, Sean, is actually writing a new book all about this topic -- what we call "Pharma CX" -- which is the process of creating, measuring, and managing customer experiences in the pharmaceutical industry. The book is called Pharma CX Secrets, and in this series, we're going to be spending each session on different key sections of the book ahead of its release later this year. If you've got questions for our team, please drop them in the comments below and we'll be sure to answer them. So the main topic of today's session that we're kicking off with is how to achieve patient-centricity in the pharmaceutical industry, but before we dive into all of that, Sean -- tell us about the new book!

Sean: Yeah, it's been great. I wrote a book a few years ago called Listen or Die, which is all in the customer experience industry, and best practice there... and we've worked a lot in the pharmaceutical industry since the beginning of the company, since it was founded in 2001 -- everything you can imagine around market research topics -- but about five or six years ago, we started to work with patient support services teams around the experience patients and HCPs have around the services that they deliver, and we also started to work with some clinical teams around the experience patients have in clinical trials. So it got me thinking that some of the traditional principles that we talk about for customer experience in industries like hospitality and financial services, restaurants, retail, really do apply to pharma in many ways. And I think you're going to start seeing more and more pharmaceutical companies think about experiences rather than simply delivering products. Their products are incredibly important -- we know that -- they extend lives, they save lives, they increase quality of life, medical outcomes... But thinking about how their customers experience the products and services offered by pharma is sort of a mindset shift that I thought needed to be written about. So I wrote this book! It will be published in the fall of 2021, and it's called Pharma CX Secrets, and it's 20 secrets that we've learned over the years that drive what I call "true patient-centricity." Now, every pharma company is patient-centric in some way -- meaning that their reason for existence is helping patients in some way, shape or form. And we can look at some mission statements, right, because this is really chapter one of the book. If we look at some mission statements of the top, I don't know, 30 or so pharmaceutical companies, we're going to see the word "patient," "life," "life changing," "patient-focused," "human," "people," "consumers," "people," "health," but what they're talking about are patients. Even if they're not referring to them as patients... All these great companies exist to improve patients' lives, I don't think anybody could argue with that, right Kirk? I mean, you've been working the field for quite a while.

Kirk Lohbauer: Yeah, and everyone you talk to at any pharma company, patient-centricity is something that they are aware of in a way that they weren't five years ago -- just as a term.

Sean: Exactly. The question though, is just like great customer experience companies say they're customer-centric. So these words are used also in CX industries like hospitality and such. What makes a company -- a pharmaceutical company, a biopharmaceutical company, a biotechnology company -- what makes them patient-centric, right? And that's what I'm diving into with this book. And I've created this term called "Pharma CX," and there are three specific activities that the best pharma companies are doing today to really become patient-centric and I would say fulfill this "Pharma CX," as I'm calling it, mindset in the book. And those three things are one -- and we've got a little diagram, right? The first thing is... experiences happen no matter if you create them or not. This happens in every industry -- so your patients are having experiences with your support team right now, whether or not you created them with intention. Your patients are going to clinical trial sites now, and reading your literature, and onboarding onto new trials. Whether you're creating those experiences with intention or not, they're happening. Pharma CX means that you're creating the experiences with intention. That you're thinking about them, you're trying to understand how your customer, which in this case is usually a patient, HCP or caregiver, how they will feel with they interact with you around that experience. And in the book, I talk a lot about "moments of truth." "Moments of truth" is a really great term to think about. And what a "moment of truth" is is a situation where your customer interacts with you, and if that experience goes wrong, or is poor, or doesn't meet expectations, there are consequences. Now, in regular CX, the consequence would be "I'm not coming back to your store," or "I'm going to say bad things about you to a friend," or "I'm going to go into Yelp and type my experience and get out my frustration." And those are important consequences to those companies. But in pharma, the consequences are more significant. The consequence could be "I'm not onboarding onto this new medication." The consequence could be "I'm not going to return to this clinical trial." The consequence could be "I'm not going to adhere over time with this medication regimen," right? Kirk, we've seen this over and over again. I mean, this is different than not being able to check out of a hotel in a timely manner...

Kirk: Yeah, absolutely. I think that creating experiences with intention is a key part of this, because the patient-centricity shift that you really need to hone in on is that historically, if you create a medication... you know, you're creating a product, and you're doing marketing around that product, and you're aware that as a part of that, there are experiences of going to the doctor, going to the pharmacy, taking the medication... but you understand them more as byproducts rather than something that you're trying to manage. To create experiences with intention means making the drug is just the first step along the patient journey, and with intent, how am I understanding and creating these experiences further down the line? So that's really critical, and that's a big mindset shift.

Sean: So let me give an example. People might be thinking, "What are you talking about? We can't control the experiences people have with the medication," and that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about everything else but their experience with the actual efficacy of the medication. It's support around managing the disease. It's support around attending the clinical trial and feeling good about it. So let's take a patient support services example. We know that a moment of truth is getting to a treatment center -- like having a patient be able to be physically transported to that treatment center. So let's think about what patient support services could do to help with that moment of truth -- because if you can't get to the treatment center, you're not going to onboard, and you're not going to adhere, right Kirk? Like that's pretty clear. So what choices do we have? Well, one experience you could create is you could put treatment center options on your website, right? You can say "hey, here are some treatment center options," and put addresses of those treatment centers. Another experience -- you could build on that and in addition, you could put some public transportation options -- "you can get there through the subway, different bus routes..." You could give a little map from the subway and the bus routes on how to exactly get to the treatment center so there's no confusion. That's another option, right? Now one better option -- probably better experience -- how about giving your patients a coupon code for a discounted Uber or Lyft ride, or a free Uber or Lyft ride back and forth to the treatment center? Three ways you can create that experience with intention. And when you create experiences that create an emotional bond with your customer -- which in this case in the patient -- what we we were talking about in our example -- really good things happen. Now in regular CX, the good things that happen is they buy more from you, they write good reviews, they tell a lot of people about you... The good things that happen in pharma are more consequential: they onboard onto the new medication, they adhere over time most likely, and their disease state gets better, they're able to manage it and they live a better life. Those are really important outcomes, right? So this creation with intention is a key part of Pharma CX, and without it, I can't imagine a pharma company being truly patient-centric.

Kirk: Precisely, yeah. If you're not imagining the actual pace and process of accessing the medication and being very thoughtful and making that as seamless as possible, then they're going to have a poor experience. And this is something where, Sean, you mentioned adherence -- and in some medications, you would say "well that can actually be a problem," -- it's often for rare diseases, or for some diseases these are life-saving medications -- patients need to take them. But we've seen for some of these, it's the patient isn't going to take them as prescribed... "I'm going to take this medication that is intended to be preventative as a symptomatic medication because I actually don't like going through the process of attaining it..." And if that's something you're not creating with intention, these are the kind of changes you'll see in patient behavior.

Madeline: I like what you said, too, about that it's creating experiences with intention, right? These experiences have been created just by nature of them needing to be part of the process, but I think having that intention behind it and really thinking, like you said, Sean, about putting yourself in the patient's shoes and what would they need to have a more seamless experiences to make this as easy as possible?

Sean: Absolutely. So that's the first part is creating these experiences. The beauty of this feedback loop, which we'll talk about, is you don't have to get these experiences right 100% the first time. No one, even the consumer brands, do not deliver perfect experiences the first time. But you have to try. So you have to at least with intention create what you want to have happen. And then you measure to see if it did happen. And that's the second part of this model: "Continuously Measure CX." And the word "continuously" is super important. Pharma CX is not about one off measurement. For the most part, Pharma CX is about continuously measuring that moment of truth over and over again until you're absolutely certain you've got it right -- and even when you've got it right, there are outliers you probably have to manage and react to. So Kirk, this is kind of our bread and butter at PeopleMetrics, this measurement part, so do you want to speak to how critical this is to get right? This second part of it?

Kirk: Yeah, absolutely -- and the core thing here -- the reason why continuous measurement is so important is because those experiences we talked about are happening continuously - patients are continuously onboarding, they're continuously trying to find access to their pharmacy, they're changing their insurance provider and needing assistance getting access in that way... And if you need to make sure that you haven't just done one point in time that, "great, we rolled out this medication, we surveyed our patients and we found out we've got a wonderful onboarding process," because the situation today is very different from the situation tomorrow, a month from now. And I think one example, of course, that's very clear and top of mind on people's minds is everyone's lifestyle has changed around COVID. That was a major adjustment that support teams had to go through, that clinical trial teams had to adjust go, and measuring how that impacts the patient required continuous measurement of "how are we making this change?" And things like that will happen every day. You only know if you're doing it continuously. So we're continuously measuring for... the example I gave is, "How satisfied are you with your ability to find and to get to a treatment center?" So that could be a moment of truth that gets continually measured. But then it also has to be managed, right? So what does that mean? "Manage" means that when you measure something, it doesn't go into a PowerPoint deck and be put on a shelf -- that's not management, that's observation and thinking. "Management" means you're doing something with that feedback from your customer -- either on an individual basis -- and of course, course-correct if someone had a poor experience -- you can follow up with that patient, HCP, and make sure it's right if it's appropriate, if you have permission to follow up, which you can get that. And of course, you're following all the PII standard, which you can do. Or you're identifying a systemic issue. What that means is it's an issue that lots and lots of customer are experiencing, and you change it. So in our case, let's say these are the choices that we have -- these three choices around transportation -- and then a pandemic happens and you're finding that people aren't satisfied with their transportation options or their treatment options in the treatment center because they don't want to go there because they don't want to get sick. So you start thinking about that at a systemic level and saying, "well maybe we need to have people come to the patients' homes themselves and deliver treatment that way somehow," right? And so maybe there's another version of the experience that you need to alter, or if someone had a very poor experience, Kirk, let's say an individual patient got that coupon code and it didn't work and they indicated that on the survey that they had a very negative experience -- with PII controls in place and safeguards -- that person could be followed up on and apologized to, given a new code -- maybe a couple codes -- to make it right.

Kirk: Yeah. You mentioned earlier, "How does this relate to customer feedback?" If I'm a customer and I have a bad experience at a hotel or something, or I get a burger at a restaurant, I just won't get that burger again, I won't go to that restaurant again. But in the pharma space, if you hit a barrier in access that is preventing you from getting treatment -- which on the patient side can mean either they aren't adopting that treatment and that hurts their outcomes... and on the HCP side this is something that they're then mindful of for the future of, "How come it's so hard for my patients to get access to this therapy? It's hard for them to get onto it. I'm not going to prescribe this," or, "I'm going to prescribe some different medication because they have a smoother time gaining access." So that's why that management piece is so important -- because you've actually got to hone the experience.

Sean: And the beauty of this model... it's a great example, Kirk, is once you manage CX and let's say you want to make a change to how you're delivering the experience, you can then create a new experience and measure that and see if that's working. We have an example in the book how one of our clients created literature for new patients who are arriving at clinical trials to describe the process, what's going to happen, and everything around the trial. And they did their best, but they felt like it might have been too complicated, right Kirk? And there were some visual aspects to it that they were concerned about whether people could read it, right? You were involved in this, right? They weren't sure. They did their best in terms of creating the experience, but they had some concerns.

Kirk: Yeah, I was involved in this one. And this example is a great one because pharma companies, as you said, do their best to create good literature for clinical trials. But this is an example of, "here's why you want to continuously measure," because it was feedback around some kind of symptoms you might experience - what do you do around adverse events and making sure patients were aware? And so rather than just create a focus group, see how the literature was received and then say, "Great, this is what we're going to launch with," what they did was after they launched with it, they kept asking patients. They said: "How was this literature? Was it clear? What was being communicated? Was it visually compelling enough? Did it keep your attention through?" And they did find out that, of course, for someone that is expressing symptoms, you do need visual indications of "What is it that I might experience?" And that was the real visual appeal that they were lacking that patients made very clear in their feedback. So they were able to change that literature in a way for the second round that they wouldn't have been able to if they just used the feedback from their initial market research of the static design.

Sean: Right. And we know that once protocols are set, they're hard to change. But you can use them for future protocols and future patients benefit from this kind of Pharma CX feedback loop -- even in clinical trials. So anything that a patient experiences or an HCP experiences or a caregiver experiences, you should be creating those experiences with intention. At least the moments of truth -- those areas that are super important. And we'll do another PeopleMetrics LIVE! -- I think it's going to be an incredibly valuable PeopleMetrics LIVE! -- on the best way and a methodology to create experiences with intention. Because there's something called "Customer Journey Mapping" that is one of the better chapters in the book, and it's applied to pharma, and it gives some ideas on how to do that well. But I think for now what we wanted to do is make sure that people understood what Pharma CX is, what are the three components of it, and how, by doing these three things over and over again for important touchpoints within your ecosystem with patients, HCPs, caregivers, patient-centricity becomes real within an organization. You know, a lot of companies we talk to, their employees at pharma companies will say, "Yeah, we're patient-centric, but I don't really know exactly what that means and how I can help do that and be more of that every day." This type of framework allows that to happen in my view.

Kirk: Yeah, and when I think of where most pharma companies are on this feedback loop, most of them are sort of doing the first one of creating these experiences with intention. Maybe you're creating an experience and you have a sort of patient focus group at first as you're thinking through this process. But then after you do it, there is no regular management, measurement -- there is no kind of looping back to manage the experience. There's certainly very little actual direct patient follow-up to correct negative experiences, and that's where this lens becomes so helpful because you get to apply this and say, "We call ourselves patient-centric, but have we created this with intention? Have we listened to patients? Have we actually made changes based on that patient listening?" And it really gives you a framework to say, "We're not matching our actions to our words of patient-centricity."

Sean: And look, I get into this in the book -- I think Pharma's focus is often access, right? We need to get the patient access, access, access. That is important, and those experiences should be created with intention, but there is more to do. This goes beyond access, right? This can be extended to helping these patients live the best life they can, you know? And you can think about it holistically, like, "Yeah, after they get access, then what? Then how do we keep them going? How do we increase adherence? How do we make sure their mental health is strong to continue on with these medications? How do we help them physically feel as good as they can be so they can be on these medications?" I really think as Pharma expands their thinking around what it means to create a great experience for their customer, they can help so much more and make such a bigger impact than they are today. And the impact they're making today is unbelievable, but it can be even more. You can find these studies everywhere - the Edelman study said that healthcare companies, pharma companies had some of the lowest perceptions from consumers out of every industry. There's a Gallup study that showed Pharma was behind oil and gas and utilities in terms of companies that are admired. And there's no reason for that. Pharma is saving the world. I just got my first COVID shot on Saturday, and I'm scheduled for the next one in three weeks. Everybody's going to be vaccinated who wants to be. We're going to get back to normal and it's because of Pharma, biopharma, biotechnology, whatever you want to call it. Yet from a consumer perspective, they're right up there with cable companies in terms of perception and there's no reason for that. Pharma has an opportunity to emotionally connect with their customer in ways they're not doing today.

Madeline: Just looking at this feedback loop and then hearing from you, Sean and Kirk, about how much of a mindset shift is required to really make a change in patients' lives and improving their lives, it seems like it's such a large transformation that does need to happen. What's the first step, or what needs to happen internally at Pharma companies to kick start this -- just from an operations standpoint?

Sean: Kirk, you want to take that one? I know I've kind of hogged this whole PeopleMetrics LIVE!

Kirk: Sure, absolutely. I think like all good big projects, it starts with buy-in. You want to find a good advocate internally, get some leadership buy-in. If you're the head of a clinical team, if you're the head of a support team, show the impact of this. The great thing about Pharma CX is that the benefit is so clear. There's any number of actual statistics; statistics we've done from our programs about how patient satisfaction increases adherence, increases treatment preparedness... But even just at a core level, even if you don't have the hard numbers, it's very easy to see in this process why we need to manage this experience. Because if we don't, we're hard to deal with, and if we're hard to deal with, patients and HCPs are going to make different decisions about how they get their treatment and where they get their treatment. So start with leadership buy-in and show them that, "this is a process we can do, this is a process that is being done, companies like us, we do this..." That's where you want to start to show that value and get that buy-in.

Sean: I mean, I believe there's an opportunity for customers, for patients, for people to love big Pharma companies as much as they love Apple and Spotify and Peloton. Pfizer and J&J and AstraZeneca should be loved more than those companies because they're saving people's lives and are allowing them to go on to buy an Apple iPhone and listen to Spotify and jump on a Peloton -- like, without these companies, there is none of that. And I do think it's just a mindset. It's not easy, but it's possible because we're seeing our clients -- we have clients doing this, and we have clients creating these experiences with intention, continuously measuring and managing every single day. So we know it's possible. And that's why I wrote the book -- because I'm hoping it gets into the hands of lots of and lots and different roles at Pharma from C-Suite to people who are heading Patient Support Services to people who are in the clinical teams to brand teams to insights and market research people who gather information. I think there's something for all of those folks in there, and I can't wait to get this out to the world.

Madeline: That's great, Sean. That reminds me of... when we talk about patient-centricity and what it really means, or customer-centricity and what it really means, it means when everyone at the organization is centered around, "What can I do to improve the patient experience or customer experience?" And so I think yeah, you're right, that it should be touching every person working at a Pharma company should have a connection to, "What is the patient experience?" just the same way that we do with customer experience...

Sean: Any Pharma company that wants to buy every employee a copy of the book, just get in touch with Madeline, she'll give you a bulk discount.

Madeline: Yes, definitely. Well guys, this was a great talk. We have time for one question here, so the question here is: "How do you get started on measuring and managing patient experience or customer experience in Pharma?"

Sean: Yeah, and we can get into this when we do customer journey mapping, it's really identifying what is the most important interaction you have with your patient, right? And if you're in, let's say you're in patient support services and you're looking at the interactions you have -- right, Kirk, you've worked in a lot of programs there -- what one or two touch points would you say you would recommend someone starting with?

Kirk: Onboarding is definitely a big one, so either after you've just completed a welcome call with a patient, or after they've just gotten their first dose, that's a great time. That's what I'll say -- that's where you want to start. After a welcome call or after some sort of first infusion. And on the clinical side, you could do the start of a trial, something along those lines. 

Sean: And when you identify that moment of truth, the key is thinking about... if you have any knowledge about how people are experiencing it today, you use that to understand and to tweak. Or if you're just starting it, you want to create the experience that you want your customer to have. So you think about what it's like. You put yourself in their shoes and you feel what they feel when they interact with your company. And that's where you start the creation of those experiences, which you will ultimately measure and manage. But more to come on that in a future PeopleMetrics LIVE!

Madeline: Yes, definitely. Alright, well thank you both so much for your time and for all your expertise about Pharma CX. This was a great conversation about those three main components of patient-centricity in Pharma: creating, measuring, and managing--

Sean: Creating with intention!

Madeline: Very important! And measuring continuously -- all those words are there for a reason! Yeah, so I'm personally very excited about future sessions of this series, where we're going to be diving into other key sections from Pharma CX Secrets and getting a little more into the tactical strategies for achieving patient-centricity in Pharma.

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Posted on 03-11-2021