Words by Jade Williams
The force majeure on healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic intensified the pharmaceutical industry’s need to support patients and consider them in their processes, but also revealed hidden pain points for them to address. Speaking on the EMG GOLD Podcast, Edmond Chan, Senior Director, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Therapeutic Area Lead, Haematology, Janssen, remarks that: “All healthcare professionals have the patient at the centre of everything they do.” But in the wake of the pandemic, how can the industry ensure this also rings true for their relationship with patients? We must ask ourselves this: what has pharma learned from COVID-19 that will enable them to place the patient experience at the forefront of all future drug development and delivery decisions?
At the peak of the pandemic, patients faced the challenge of navigating a socially distanced world of treatment. Those who were issued safeguarding letters to inform them they were at high risk of danger from COVID-19 experienced delays in treatment thanks to social distancing and de-prioritisation. Cancer Research found oncology treatments dropped 37% from April 2020 to May 2021 due to safeguarding, leading many to feel neglected by health services and 7 out of 10 “feeling more frustrated and anxious.” People with Parkinson’s also expressed sentiments of feeling “left in the dark” on whether treatments would continue, as many were not issued with letters from the Government on their safeguarding status as vulnerable or highly vulnerable. Clinical trials also had to cease operation during the pandemic, halting developments in innovative drugs and procedures as participants could not stay overnight in hospitals to be monitored.
While troubling on the surface, the silver lining among these challenges is that pharma has become aware of issues that need to be corrected regarding patient centricity. The necessity to overcome physical barriers to clinical trials has led to an overhaul of the drug testing process, with the emergence of the first digital clinical trials subverting the need for patients to remain in hospital for long stays. This shift has been made possible through the adoption of new technologies such as remote monitoring software and artificial intelligence that enable pharma to keep track of trial proceedings and results as well as adherence tools that remind patients when to take medications.
Also on the EMG GOLD Podcast, Vanessa Pott, Director, Global Patient Insights and Advocacy, Merck KGaA, notes that going forward companies must also engage in collaborations with patients “that shape the internal decision making from early research to the end of the drug life cycle – including, for example, packaging and pill size.” Working collaboratively with patients, be it through awareness days or attending roundtables, can provide golden insights into how to improve patient experiences and re-focus conversations on them after the pandemic.
Pharma companies will not be able to achieve patient access without having a meaningful dialogue
Looking to the future, Jennifer Cain Birkemose, Senior Pharmaceutical Leader, Market Access, told the EMG GOLD Podcast that pharma companies will not be able to “achieve patient access without having a meaningful dialogue.” While the pandemic has exacerbated challenges the world over, the “echoes of covid” have empowered patients to speak up about their needs and previously hidden pain points have been revealed. This has created an environment where patient centricity can become even stronger than before, turning a force majeure into a force for good.