Biopharma Companies Must Go All-In on Patient Centricity

As big tech’s healthcare disruption efforts flag, biopharma can step up to empower patients and improve care, writes Rohit Gupta.

Technology giants have long sought to disrupt the healthcare industry. Companies like Apple, Amazon and Google have worked to enter the healthcare space in myriad ways — from improving health data collection (via devices) to creating telemedicine operations and even plotting out primary-care services. However, many of these attempts to disrupt and improve health care have turned into false starts.

Haven, the healthcare partnership formed by JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway and Amazon, disbanded earlier this year. Apple has struggled to break into the primary-care space. And Google broke up its health unit and is still trying to figure out its play in health care. So, big tech’s seemingly inevitable dominance of health care will have to wait. But even if the tech industry’s progress on this front has slowed, the trends in the health care industry are clear. These companies’ efforts — combined with government regulations like the 21st Century Cures Act that aim to improve data portability — point toward a future state where patients are empowered by data and technology. In this world, patients will enjoy seamless access to their health data via easy-to-use technology. They can then share this data with their caregivers, enabling mobility across the health care ecosystem. This patient empowerment will also enhance care by giving HCPs more visibility into a patient’s medical history and equipping them with the necessary context to make informed treatment decisions.

The empowered patient will be able to change providers more easily and take more control over their health. This future state will be a technology-enabled loop where data is flowing across providers, payers, employers and patients to facilitate better care, more choices for patients, and, ideally, a more efficient and effective treatment process. All of this is great news for the patient who struggles today to navigate a convoluted, siloed and overly bureaucratic health care ecosystem. However, we’re still some ways away from seeing all this potential come to fruition. In addition to the hurdles technology companies have encountered, providers’ compliance with government-issued data portability mandates is low — and has been further hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, what does all this mean for biopharma? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean they can sit back and expect the healthcare status quo to persist. On the contrary, biopharma companies must go all-in on patient centricity, reworking their commercial organizations and processes to meet patient needs in a more targeted way.

Biopharma commercial organizations should deploy sophisticated data management and advanced analytics techniques to uncover the nuances of various patient treatment journeys. Then, align promotional efforts with the needs of patients and support providers in their efforts to ensure patient adherence. This effort to become more patient centric will help biopharma prepare for a more tech-enabled health care ecosystem, advance patient empowerment, and improve care and health outcomes.

From a brand- to patient-focused approach

A shift to patient centricity for biopharma is a natural outgrowth of the industry-wide shift to more targeted therapies and rare disease treatments. However, generally speaking, the operational infrastructures of biopharma companies are not fully aligned to this shifting reality. So, before they spend too much time chasing the grand visions of the tech-enabled health care ecosystem we discussed earlier, biopharma commercial leaders need to rethink their operational structures as well as their patient-facing technologies.

It’s important to note that some companies are further along the patient-centricity maturity curve than others. For example, while big pharma companies will have a tougher time upending entrenched traditional structures, emerging companies have a better chance, since they are working without the burden of legacy infrastructures and have fewer organizational layers. Overall, though, all biopharma companies need to strive to be more patient centric. In our view, the changes biopharma companies need to make fall into three categories: processes, people and technology.

Processes: Incentives remain largely focused on brands instead of patients. This must change if biopharma is to play a role in the coming transformation of health care — and then make the most of this transformation. Companies must take a comprehensive look at their incentive compensation programs and adjust these programs to align incentives with patient outcomes, not brand outcomes. Part of this shift will involve reframing the company’s value proposition. This effort will also include targeted physician education around how to address common patient challenges and preempt compliance issues. It will also involve active participation in removing red tape (from payers and specialty pharmacies, for instance) that inhibit therapy starts. Additionally, companies must ensure patients have easy access to the resources they need to self-administer treatment and deal with the side effects of therapy.

People: In any business setting, the right people are always the crucial enabler of any significant change. To facilitate the aforementioned changes to commercial operations, companies need to ensure they have the right people in place to operate in a more patient-centric manner. Sometimes that may be the same people the company has in place today. In other cases, a company may need to tweak its personnel to put in place individuals more equipped to take the company in a more patient-centric direction. Either way, a detailed assessment of talent is necessary.

Technology: Companies should take a hard look at their patient-facing technology infrastructures and look for opportunities to consolidate and simplify. Too often today, companies have a bewildering array of patient-facing technologies (centered around brands, disease states, etc.). To improve the patient experience and advance the technology maturity of the health care industry, biopharma companies should cut down on overlap between its patient-facing applications and create solutions that better meet patients’ needs across therapies. This effort goes hand in hand with moving away from a brand focus and toward a patient focus. By consolidating patient-facing technology, companies will create a more seamless and user-friendly experience, which is another step towards implementing a patient-centric commercial model.

An important first step in patient empowerment

Biopharma needn’t wait around for big tech to transform health care. Instead, they can make strides toward patient empowerment today and do their part to create a future in which patients have more flexibility, more choice, and benefit from better, more targeted care. Preparing today for this future will not only advance this cause (which should be a priority for every player in the health care space) but also ensure companies are poised to thrive as we get closer to this ideal state.

The macro trends in biopharma point to a more patient-centric future. With an increasing focus on targeted therapies and rare disease treatments, the biopharma industry is moving toward patient centricity. However, alongside big tech’s struggle to gain a foothold in the industry and providers’ and payers’ slow progress on data portability, biopharma’s legacy operational structures and convoluted patient-facing technologies stand in the way of patient empowerment.

By taking a hard look at their commercial processes, people and technologies, biopharma companies can better serve patients and their providers. This effort will help biopharma companies improve their bottom lines, potentially appeal to ESG-driven investors, and, most importantly, contribute to the creation of a health care system that works better for patients.

Technology giants have recognized the significant opportunity here. Now’s the time for biopharma to do their part and move this effort forward.

Rohit Gupta is vice president of analytics strategy and transformation at Beghou Consulting.