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.
Feb 01, 2012

One of the burning questions facing the pharmaceutical manager today is: Who are my key customers? More precisely, is the relationship with the patient community an underrated factor in driving commercial returns, and, if so, does my company's organization and management structure adequately reflect the importance of this constituency as something fundamental to the business mission?

The fact is, traditional customer relationships are in flux as the industry reacts to the democratization of healthcare information, as well as a less-favorable economic climate that is shaping the politics of access and pricing for new medicines. Nevertheless, it is surprising how little has changed in the way that companies assign senior management responsibilities around high-profile business activities. In addition to the head of pharmaceutical operations and other key business units, there are the functional leads: chief financial officer, chief medical officer, head of human resources, chief legal officer and—of late—a chief compliance officer. Together, these senior personnel comprise the "C-suite," report to the CEO, and thus shape the priorities of the entire organization.

Given the level of market churn facing the industry today, it is appropriate to ask if the C-suite is in sync with the times, particularly as a new consensus emerges around the sheer diversity of that still-evolving customer base. These challenging days ahead for industry can offer the best time for an organization to reinvent itself institutionally, through a better focus on adapting to a new generation of stakeholders.

Key Customers—Today and Tomorrow

The key "customers" of the biopharmaceutical industry today and tomorrow can be grouped into a few self-evident categories:

» The investors who underwrite your opportunity;

» The regulators who oversee your products and operations;

» The external researchers who help to develop and demonstrate the value of your products;

» The clinicians who prescribe or recommend use of your products;

» The organizations that determine whether to "stock" and make your products available to their customers;

» The payers who cover the costs of your products; and

» The patients who actually need and use your products

Patient Power's Growth Potential

Wanted: Chief Patient Officer
Of all these customers, it is the patient whose engagement and perceptions have been most dramatically altered by the arrival of new information technologies that almost place the patient on an equal footing with the clinician in evaluating choices of therapy. As patients and their caregivers become more knowledgeable and better enabled to participate in decisions on treatment, they are vital to the acceptance and "valuation" of health-related products and services. Studies show that patient engagement can improve quality of care, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes, while reducing medical errors and healthcare costs. The new federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has been empowered to transform the whole concept of measurable clinical outcomes—to include outcomes that are much more inclusive of quality as opposed to just quantity of life.

A multidimensional approach with a "social surround sound" is critical to true empowerment and engagement of the patient as an active member of the healthcare team. This is not simply about patients complying with their medication regimens; social media has already demonstrated the potential as a key mechanism for communication with patients, yet legal and regulatory concerns have hindered two-way conversations. Our healthcare system is embarking upon one of the greatest investments in patient engagement ever, but many have left out the voice of the patient in these efforts.

Imagine healthcare as an ecosystem, with a focus on delivery of appropriate and accurate treatment information to the right patient at the right time in the care process—information offered in a context that educates, motivates, and supports behavior change and lifestyle modifications—and presented in a way that patients understand, based on their own capacity to absorb it. Now imagine if industry played a collaborative role in these efforts; it would allow biopharmaceutical companies to evolve from being just drug manufacturers to being committed partners in global healthcare improvement.

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