Patient centricity. That buzzword, goal, process, and philosophy has permeated the life sciences industry for about five years now. Companies said they wanted their organizations to consider the patient in everything they do. They wanted to find new and better ways to serve patients beyond just medications. They wanted to help contribute to improving the overall patient experience. So, how have they done?

In the “2nd Annual Patient Centricity Benchmark Survey,” from The Aurora Project and Ipsos, 1,282 participants (including employees from biopharmaceutical and medical device companies, associated supplier companies, self-reported patients, and patient group members) were surveyed between July and November 2017. While 91% of participants rated the importance of pharma, biotech, and medical device companies to deliver on their patient-focused missions/visions as an 8 or more out of 10, only 30% were confident in companies’ ability to deliver on those mission/visions.

And while 72% of the employees surveyed agreed with the statement “My company communicates with care and compassion, transparent and unbiased information on diseases, treatment options, and available resources,” only 32% of the patients surveyed believed that was true of the pharma, biotech, or medical device company that they interact with the most. Furthermore, only 36% of the patients surveyed indicated that they have “quite a bit” or “a lot” of trust in the pharmaceutical industry overall.

This makes it hard to create the relationships and experiences that the industry says it wants with and for patients without establishing some more trust first.

Earning Patients’ Trust

“Trusting relationships take effort and sustained communication,” explains Jenny Sparano, Director, PEPpartners at the Patient Experience Project, an EVERSANA Agency. “They’re built over time when collaboration comes from a place of empathy and ensuring that the patients’ best interests always drive decisions. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies can activate patient-mindedness or take it to the next level by developing patient and caregiver partner programs that empower patients to share their stories or make one-on-one connections with their peers. By personalizing mentor programs, and through the development of impactful speaker events and support materials, patients and caregivers can become active contributors to the work of the companies that provide them with life-changing treatments.”

And when engaging with patients—whether it is through speaker programs, collaborations, market research, or anything else—companies have to ensure they are truly listening to them. And today that can mean more than just sitting down and having a conversation with them. Companies such as Amazon and inVibe are working to better understand the so-called “vocal biomarkers” that may signal a person’s emotions behind what they say and could even one day serve as tools to diagnose health conditions in and of themselves.

“As researchers and marketers strive to be more patient-centric, it is vitally important to move beyond just hearing what someone says and to also consider how it is said,” says Kathryn Ticknor, Head of Research, inVibe Labs. “In many ways, listening becomes the ‘System 1’ of emotional analytics—helping us to quickly understand a speaker’s intention, mood, and attitude at a deeply human level. By taking time to listen to patient stories, we move from thinking of stories as ‘anecdotal evidence’ to a more trustworthy—and trusted—framework for empathy and understanding.”

Once companies get and understand those stories, they also must do a better job of incorporating them into the materials that make it out in the world. Ross Fetterolf, Co-Founder of SONIC Health, says that even though marketers do extensive research with and about patients, the actual patient voice is often lost when it comes time to develop patient-facing materials.

“Patients see people that don’t look like them, using language to describe their disease that doesn’t sound like them,” Fetterolf adds. “To achieve greater authenticity, we must continue to allow patients to see and hear themselves in our communications. Look to current social trends on Facebook and Instagram, and you’ll see what authentic videos and stories look like. They’re honest, transparent, and simple. Something most five-minute pharma patient stories—with their dramatic music, perfect lighting, and B-roll footage—are not. Let patients tell the story in their words and transform that into short videos or quotes. Listen to how they speak in social media and adopt their vernacular. Respecting their culture is the key to creating an authentic brand experience that leads to trusted relationships.”

Building a Better Experience

Patients also want to be involved in the creation of the solutions companies are developing to help them, including everything from apps to patient assistant programs to the actual medications themselves.

“It is critical to work with patients early and often throughout the creation cycle,” says Sari Kaganoff, Associate Partner, leader of McKinsey’s Patient Experience Practice. “Before you begin, learn about their needs, motivations, behaviors, and challenges through ethnographic research in-situ. Then, as you develop the solution, co-create it, refine with patient input, and test and iterate with patients throughout the design and development process. Once in market, continue to collaborate and test your offering with patients. In addition, work with a diverse set of patients, so the insights you generate address the needs of many different patients.”

It is also increasingly important for any experience patients have with healthcare and life sciences companies to be as seamless as the one they have with retail companies.

“When it comes to customer experience, Amazon has set the standard and patients want that same easy-to-access, easy-to-use type of experience,” says Nikkie Jones, Managing Director, closerlook. “Monthly medication refills should be as simple as ordering a product online. Reaching an empathetic representative to discuss medication side effects should be quick and painless. Granted, it won’t be easy to duplicate this formula in pharma—factors like HIPAA compliance can make it difficult to create an effortless patient experience—but it’s not impossible. Companies are constantly working to improve the patient experience, but it’s time for us to move faster. When we get there, it will be the beginning of a new era in medicine.”

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