While a comprehensive patient journey is essential to creating an effective brand strategy, that alone is no guarantee of success. Marketers must take the next step and utilize the patient journey they’ve articulated to build tactical plans that are both solid and measurable.

The “patient journey” is a description of how patients experience a disease or condition. It begins with their first awareness of symptoms and continues through all stages of diagnosis and treatment, ultimately ending in a cure, remission or death.

A complete view of the patient journey extends from disease awareness through final treatment, covering not only the current state of the market, but how the treatment paradigm is likely to evolve over the next few years. At each juncture along the way, the patient journey reflects the hurdles faced and decisions made by patients and providers, the rationale behind those decisions, and the subsequent emotions. A comprehensive depiction of the patient journey will provide both quantitative data surrounding each milestone on the journey, as well as qualitative data on what patients, caregivers and providers are thinking and feeling.

Such a comprehensive view requires multiple research sources and methods, such as secondary data, social media listening platforms and projective research. With these comprehensive methods, companies can uncover unmet needs, spot growth opportunities, and position their products in ways that resonate favorably with providers, payers and patients.

Building a Patient Journey

IMS research suggests that nine out of 10 brand teams don’t use the latest practices for building and using patient journeys—leaving gaps in market understanding or strategy execution, and ultimately yielding sub-optimal brand performance.

With the availability of the latest, comprehensive methods for understanding the patient journey, companies can proceed with new-found confidence in the foundation for their brand plans. Companies should build their patient journeys with six objectives in mind (See Figure, opposite page):

  • Understand “what is happening,” i.e., the full patient experience from awareness through adherence.
  • Gain insight into the “why” behind the decisions made throughout the journey.
  • Understand “how often” patients are engaged in activity related to their condition.
  • Estimate “how the typical patient journey will evolve” over the next several years, especially in pre-launch situations.
  • Align on “where to add value” within the patient journey and design strategies and tactics to win in the marketplace.
  • Ensure that the team answers “how do we know we are winning” by measuring progress against the prioritized objectives within the journey.

Although there are multiple dimensions to understanding the full patient journey, most of them fall into one of several categories: Patient touch points with providers, patient mindset and emotional drivers.
Patient touch Points with Providers: longitudinal Patient data
A wealth of secondary data sources allows us to analyze patients’ touch points with providers, creating a map of how patients flow through the system from diagnosis through adherence. The input for these maps comes from diverse and rich anonymized longitudinal patientlevel data sources, including: EMR data from physician offices and hospitals; diagnostic data from labs; claims data covering diagnosis, treatment and adherence; and managed care data covering prescription fulfillment.

The research answers questions such as: “How many patients reach each step of the journey?”; “Are there patients who never get drug treatment?”; “How many patients move through multiple treatments and how quickly?”; “Do patients fill their scripts and adhere to their treatment regimen?”; and “How does the cost burden influence patient behavior?”


The rise of social networking has given patients an electronic avenue for practicing what a recent Pew study refers to as “peer-to-peer healthcare,” the tendency of patients to “lend a hand, lend an ear, lend advice,” using the speed and scale of the Internet. Patients can become members of online communities through sites such as PatientsLikeMe. com, MedHelp.org and CureTogether. com, which instantly connect them to fellow sufferers. At minimum, companies can “listen in” to public conversations conducted via online forums to get a sense of what is on patients’ minds, as well as gain more systematic insight through data aggregator companies.


Experiences, opinions and decision-making exist in two domains—the rational and the emotional. To understand the underlying emotional themes that drive patient and physician decisions it is generally necessary to use less direct research techniques. One solution is to use projective research techniques, where trained clinicians provide the necessary insight to design tasks to generate emotional responses from the subject. These techniques prompt those interviewed to project their beliefs and feelings onto an ambiguous stimulus, such as an incomplete picture or story.


While articulating a comprehensive patient journey is essential to creating an effective brand strategy, that alone is no guarantee of success. Marketers must translate the insights from the brand plan into a strategy and tactics that are implemented and measured. Most pharma companies effectively identify and prioritize behavioral objectives in the patient journey. However, when it comes to laying out action plans behind these behavioral objectives, brand teams often falter. Many times the patient journey effort is stopped prematurely after the behavioral objectives are identified. In reality, aligning on the behavioral objectives is just the foundation to winning in the marketplace.

In tracking the performance on behavioral objectives, brand teams can follow these five steps to ensure success:

  • Identify and define leverage points (i.e., patient adherence).
  • Design and implement tactics to influence behavior (i.e., co-programs with hospitals and health systems, patient apps and SMS reminders).
  • Develop methodology and definitions for performance tracking, including defining the targets (i.e., ensuring 80% of patients stay on therapy after three months).
  • Develop a dashboard for performance communication (i.e., looking at persistence curves on a monthly basis).
  • Design and implement a performance mitigation plan (i.e., initiate e-mail blasts if persistence is below 70% after three months; or conduct market research to understand why patients are non-adherent).

Combining the latest research methodologies and thinking to gather information on, and insights from, physicians and patients will produce the most comprehensive, rigorous and actionable patient journey possible. Such a well-designed and thoroughly researched patient journey will place companies on a new path for designing winning brand strategies.


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