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Somewhere Beyond the Buzz

Words by Louise Rogers.

Patient centricity is by no means a new concept and probably catalyses a reaction similar to when seeing another article on Brexit; what could possibly be new this time? How ironic that a concept aimed at bringing more value to patients through medicine seems to lose a bit more of its value every time it is mentioned.

In 1987, Heinz put the customer in the centre of their product and turned everything upside down with the introduction of its easy, squeezy bottles, making it a lot easier for customers to enjoy their favourite red sauce: no more bruised palms or failed attempts to scrape out the remainders with a knife. They make it look so easy.

We are all guilty as outsiders of commenting on how an industry could do their job better. It is not groundbreaking news that the methods that once made pharma successful will not work in today’s age; many a talk has revolved around an imminent change in company culture and business model adaptation. “Sometimes we lose our way, so how do we find our way back to a place that is patient focussed?”, asks Christi Shaw, Senior VP and President for Bio-Medicines, Eli Lilly.

“It sounds so simple and basic, but it’s just about asking and listening,” says Rafael Ramon, Commercial Excellence Leader EEMEA, Roche. “We need to be using all the channels available to us to create a culture where asking the customer what the problem is becomes part of our organisation’s DNA.” It sounds almost too basic, but he goes on to explain: “We have been driven by companies to innovate and deliver new experiences. We know so well what we are doing and know so well about the product that we focus all of the attention onto that, and in the process forget about the external views.”

“We have to stop seeing the patient as a study subject and see them as a true research partner”

There is no doubting pharma’s ability to deliver breakthrough and innovative medicines, “and we have to keep doing that”, says Shaw, “but we now have the responsibility to help patients become empowered by giving them the digital tools they need to make their own healthcare decisions. We need to look at the patient journey holistically as a whole, not just where the medicines start.” And that’s exactly what Eli Lilly did when they created Anna’s House, an experience simulation in which employees by wearing a pair of specifically constructed gloves, are able to experience what it is like to live with rheumatoid arthritis. As Eli Lilly began to look at the patient journey, they realised how hard it was for patients to bend their fingers. So, with simple technology, they designed their pills to have a divot, enabling patients to lick their fingers and place the pill into their mouths without having to bend them. “High tech, low tech — we need to ask ourselves what we can do to make sure there is the least possible burden to the patient”, says Shaw.

This straightforward modification to the pill at the development level emphasises the importance of looking at the whole picture, bringing in a patient-focussed mindset from the very beginning and extending it throughout the entire supply chain. “We have to stop seeing the patient as a study subject and see them as a true research partner”, says Bahija Jallal, Executive Vice President, AstraZeneca and President, MedImmune. “We need their input from the start to measure the outcomes that matter the most to patients.”

“Patients need early intervention. It is not enough for a diabetic to take a pill and then change nothing about their lifestyle”, Jallal adds. “So how can we now, with tech, make it our business not just to bring the medicine to the patient but help that patient change their lifestyle as well?”

“And everything that pharma is doing, it’s so worth it”, says Shaw, who recently took time off to care for a family member. “When we talk about the moments and memories we have for a lifetime, we realise what we give back to patients is so important. Going through the patient journey as a career, I have seen that we do more to someone’s life than just deliver the medicine. I never became more patient-focussed than the year I experienced that patient journey.” So maybe it’s time for the whole industry to put their gloves on and experience a day at Anna’s House.

Concluding with Kris Sterkens, Company Group Chairman, Janssen, EMEA: “The ultimate goal in life is to die young as late as possible.” Pharma are enablers of this goal and are evidently on their way to delivering beyond the medicine and beyond the buzz.

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