Time to Appoint a 'Chief Patient Officer'? - Pharmaceutical Executive


Time to Appoint a 'Chief Patient Officer'?
As the "patient revolution" intensifies, now is the time for pharma companies to appoint a Chief Patient Officer—a new position designed to build an accord around trust.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Who Represents the Patient in Your C-Suite?

Most patient engagement strategies are tied to the marketing and public affairs activities of a particular brand team, and are therefore integrally tied to business priorities. However, some of today's—and many of tomorrow's—patients already see the global biopharmaceutical industry in ways that are far less related to their products and far more related to overall corporate behavior. We already know that individual patients and patient advocates have been able to change markets because of what they say and think about specific companies and their activities. How do you build trust and reputation with patients and/or patient advocacy organizations when marketing and/or public policy priorities are perceived to be driving corporate behavior? What are the corporate motivations behind these efforts—addressing patients' needs through sustainable solutions or fulfilling business goals of the organization?

Time for the CPO?

In the words of Jonathon Swift, it is time for a "modest proposal:" What the enlightened pharma company needs most in adjusting to these changes is a Chief Patient Officer (CPO) in the ranks of the C-suite.

The Chief Patient Officer's mission would be to develop a tight-knit bond with the patient community, and creating long-term solutions towards improving healthcare.

The primary responsibility of the CPO would be to understand and oversee the ways in which the company is perceived by and relates to its single largest key audience: the patient. The CPO would also help to redefine and restructure corporate drug development and commercialization strategies in ways that will offer demonstrable value to patients. This is not to ignore the needs of other key audiences, but it is a clear recognition of the fact that without a clear understanding of the main issues that matter to patients—way beyond the narrow confines of a pharmaceutical intervention—it will be impossible for companies to relate to a new customer base.

A precedent in some ways already exists: the Chief Compliance Officer is a new post in pharma and is primarily responsible for overseeing compliance within an organization, understanding external regulatory requirements, and developing strategies to ensure that the entire organization is held accountable and complies with internal/external policies. Similarly, the Chief Patient Officer would be responsible for oversight of all patient engagement strategies within an organization, understanding patient needs and issues, and developing strategies to ensure that the organization prioritizes these insights. The patient perspective would get a big boost, as the C-suite is literally 'where the buck stops,' and when its members speak, people generally listen—both internally and externally.

By carving out an overarching leadership role around the patient that is not tied to disease states or brand strategies—a role that truly puts "every patient first"—a new level of trust can be built one step at a time. This ongoing dialogue needs to begin within a commitment to putting the patient front and center. It also requires micro-level engagement with patient advocacy organizations. Large and highly visible patient organizations are important, but patient care and support is normally conducted at a grassroots level and requires sustainable solutions. Valuable programs are often created that patients rely on, but lack of commitment from supporters due to shifting corporate marketing strategies can leave the patient community without sustainable resources to affect real and sustainable change. Without vigilance from the top, such marketing-driven strategic "redirection" can destroy trust overnight.

Sarah Krüg is CEO/Executive Director of CANCER101. She can be reached at
or on Twitter @sarahkrug1 #ChiefPatientOfficer


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