November 2021 | Point of View

Patient centricity in life sciences: What does it mean, and what’s next?

Patient centricity continues to expand across healthcare. How can life sciences organizations link their efforts to business value?

Patient centricity in life sciences: What does it mean, and what’s next?

Patient centricity has taken center stage across the healthcare industry, particularly in discussions of quality and value-based care. The concept has its roots in the patient advocacy movement of the 1980s and early 1990s, driven by the HIV crisis and the work of individual patients and activists fighting for better protections, considerations, and treatment access. 

The scope of what’s meant by “patient centricity” has only expanded since then, and life sciences companies are becoming more involved (and implicated in) conversations around and movements toward a more connected, higher-quality patient-centric healthcare ecosystem. While the patient perspective has traditionally been viewed through the lens of the provider, regulator, or health plan, drug companies are no longer on the outside of the patient-provider relationship and are now under increasing pressure to adopt patient-centric approaches and mindsets. 

Leading patient centricity drivers 

  • Patient-driven healthcare and increasing consumerism: Healthcare consumers with ever more information at their fingertips (think direct-to-consumer advertising and web searching, for instance) will become increasingly more engaged with their own healthcare. Patients will seek out treatment and services that align with their values and evolving needs while also expecting a seamless, digital experience that encourages continued engagement 
  • Evolving portfolio and focus on personalized medicine: The significant drop in blockbuster drugs coupled with the dramatic increase in targeted treatments and specialty therapeutics is causing pharma companies to look to patient-centric initiatives in the form or products and services to help differentiate their therapeutic products. The acceleration of personalized treatments and precision medicine (driven by demand and increasing FDA approval) also continues to elevate the need for more patient-centered support services 

In this context, it’s understandable that there’s often confusion about what patient centricity actually means in practice, both for the life sciences sector at large and for any particular life sciences organization. We’re going to relieve that confusion here and offer our perspective on what needs to be done. 

Shifting from a disease-centered to patient-centered mindset 

Patient centricity requires organizations to deliver personalized services, solutions, and experiences throughout the patient journey that will improve outcomes and value for patients and caregivers. As patients become increasingly empowered as consumers to take active roles in their healthcare journeys, life sciences companies must adopt innovative approaches to engage with them and gain greater insight into their needs. This means that companies whose role has been focused on developing the science and medicines for prevention or treatment of diseases must shift from being disease-centered to being patient-centered.  

The movement toward personalized therapies and regulatory mandates to incorporate the patient perspective into product development and approval processes is driving increased patient centricity initiatives in life sciences. We know that more and more pharmaceutical company leaders are identifying patient centricity among their highest priorities, and that the presence of a chief patient officer and a designated patient services function has become a rising trend for the industry. This is a significant evolution of strategic imperatives considering the brand-centric approaches drug companies have traditionally taken to managing their patients. 

Here are some ways that life sciences organizations can affect the shift away from disease-centricity to improve outcomes for and deliver value to both patients and caregivers via patient-centric solutions and services: 

  • Increase disease awareness and drive therapy adherence through customized interventions rooted in a deep understanding of the patient journey. Effectively mapping the patient journey requires first gathering insights (demographics, genetics, behaviors, comorbidities, etc.) and then distilling them to identify gaps where patients are likely to find themselves at risk for skipping doses or making poor health decisions. The ability to paint a picture of what is likely to happen with a given patient or population and overlay it with a picture of what needs to happen will have enormously positive impacts on the overall effectiveness of various therapies. 
  • Reduce the burden of disease for patients and caregivers, making sure the patient and caregiver have all the support they need in order to achieve optimal outcomes. Such support may include financial assistance, insurance benefit coordination, nursing support, education, and trainings such as self-injection. 
  • Leverage technology to enrich patient engagement strategies and support patients with digital products, apps, and experiences personalized to meet various needs. The best patient-centric tools and platforms are those that effectively incorporate analytics to measure and enable constant learning. This way, continuous improvement is supported not just by strategy but by actual data. 
  • Strengthen collaboration with stakeholders, such as patient support and advocacy groups, key opinion leaders, healthcare providers, and caregivers to reduce healthcare costs, increase disease awareness, and improve diagnostic services. Collaboration and coordination is the future of the healthcare industry, and those organizations that adopt and embody this mindset will set themselves up for long-term success. 

These are foundational actions that a life sciences company of nearly any size and specialty can—and should—incorporate into its patient centricity strategy.  

We know, however, that aligning business functions, developing a digital strategy, and accessing costly patient data are among the most significant barriers to implementing patient-centricity initiatives. It can be hard to know where to begin to put the required breadth and variety of personalized products and services that deliver actionable insights into place. 

The shift from disease-centricity and brand-centricity to patient-centricity is not just a change of perspective—it’s a matter of taking on a patient-focused engagement model, reorganizing patient service programs, digitizing technology, and creating sets of experiences that spotlight the patient.  

These are fundamental improvements to the successful organization’s DNA. We see this stretching across four core areas that define the character and makeup of a patient-centric life sciences organization: 

  1. Organization-wide operating model and best practices: Patient-centric organizations establish the right structure with aligned goals to effectively deliver on the many needs of patient centricity. They go beyond a well-intended vision and continually strive to realize their strategic roadmap. 
  2. Cross-enterprise and ecosystem collaboration: Patient-centric organizations eliminate the silos across relevant areas of their business and enable effective collaboration. They learn to navigate the complexities associated with new partnerships with outside ecosystem players (providers, tech partners, regulatory bodies) and expand their ability to improve the overall patient experience. 
  3. Patient journey measurement and transparency: Patient-centric organizations establish links to patient values and clear business KPIs and benefits. They incorporate multiple levels of measurement (including patient program, therapeutic area, organizational, and overall healthcare ecosystem) to effectively monitor and track patient centricity performance. This includes establishing greater transparency across the organization to enable more effective patient engagement, continuous program improvement, and better decision-making. 
  4. Continual improvement of core competencies across the patient centricity framework: Patient-centric organizations endlessly build competencies across the patient centricity framework. This includes: Understanding the patient and elevating the patient experience, leveraging analytics and data-driven insights, and strategically embracing new technologies. 

An organization that focuses on these four areas of improvement is one that is prepared to meet the challenges of patient-driven healthcare services and the industry-wide expectation to deliver individualized experiences that cohere with provider and payer interactions. 

The opportunity ahead to link efforts to business value 

Life sciences organizations now have unprecedented, direct access to patients who expect a seamless, personalized experience throughout the continuum of care.  

While many companies have focused on educating and engaging patients to improve experiences, increase adherence, and reduce costs, many still struggle with how to link efforts to business results. Listening to and understanding patients is essential, but it can be difficult—organizationally, operationally, technologically—to continuously integrate the voice of the patient in therapy development, product launch, brand strategy, and patient services. 

But by successfully supplementing their operating models with resources focused on convenient, seamless, and technology-enabled patient services that increase disease awareness, improve diagnostic services, and support patients with engaging digital products and experiences, these organizations will reap the benefits of shifting reimbursement arrangements and improve their bottom line. 

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