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Patients, Physicians, and Payers… How Can Pharma Do it All?


The word ‘centric’ by definition means one, as in focused on a single entity. Yet, in today’s life sciences industry, companies are customer-centric and patient-centric and physician-centric - combined. It's counterintuitive…if not overwhelming, writes Lisa Barbadora

The word ‘centric’ by definition means one, as in focused on a single entity. Yet, in today’s life sciences industry, companies are customer-centric and patient-centric and physician-centric – combined, it’s counterintuitive…if not overwhelming.

Nevertheless, patient centricity is one of the most fashionable new strategies life sciences companies are exploring right now. What has traditionally been a laser focus on clinicians (with increasing attention also paid to payers) is expanding to include the end users: patients. Large and specialty pharmaceutical companies alike are diverting an increasingly larger percentage of their budgets to developing new patient engagement programs. But, in our youthful enthusiasm, will we go too far the other way?

Patients are an important part of the customer group, but they are still just one segment. And, with so many more targets to reach today – including administrators, nurses, HCPs, and patients – and an even greater number of channels to reach them with, life sciences companies are forced to dice their no-longer bottomless budgets across many areas in order to effectively go to market.

Certainly, as patient groups form cross-border networks online, many life sciences companies are mirroring these efforts and experimenting with new patient engagement teams. With the growth of specialty pharma and a shift toward outcomes-based reimbursement, leading drug makers are realigning research, sales, and marketing resources to build networks of patients, payers, healthcare professionals, and other life sciences stakeholders. Pfizer’s chief medical officer Freda Lewis-Hall says that the patient has always been the company’s “North Star.” And, in 2013, the company embraced patient centricity as a named strategy. “As an organization, we needed to organize our patient-centric thinking, systems, and processes to make it consistently part of what we do every day,” said Lewis-Hall.1

During a recent industry roundtable discussion on commercial innovation in life sciences, Michael Baes, Janssen’s vice president of marketing operations, customer orientation and transformation, said “Patient engagement has always been a priority for Janssen and the industry. The better we understand the patient journey, the better we can serve our primary customer – the physician. Those companies working in heavily researched, rapidly developing therapy areas like oncology are already seeing the need to stop focusing on product information only, and start offering patients and physicians holistic solutions – from prevention through to aftercare.”

This all sounds great in theory but, in practice, ‘holistic’ really translates into ‘more.’ More programs, more teams, and more money to reach more people through more channels (hard to believe but there are 30-50 channels available to sales and marketers today).

Consider social media and its impact on patient engagement, for example. As social media grows in ubiquity, experts say it’s an increasingly important channel for reaching physicians and engaging them about therapies. The official hashtag of the 2014 American Congress of Oncology generated 39,000 tweets over the five-day meeting – an increase of nearly 4,000% compared with the 979 tweets sent at the 2010 congress.2

Although many life sciences brands have been wary of venturing into social media, as more physicians use Twitter and other platforms to communicate professionally and patients are already huge users, how is the industry keeping its voice in the conversation about its therapies?

As a public relations expert devoted to the life sciences industry for the last ten years, I see social media as a game-changer in how all healthcare companies can build relationships with partners, customers and patients. It means pharmaceutical companies are no longer the only source of information about their therapies, and this is a very powerful shift. The stories their patients and customers are telling about brands online are, in many ways, more important than what pharma companies saying about them. And, they expect companies to be present online, and somehow part of the dialogue.

Additionally, as 4G and sensor technology grow, the opportunities to gather accurate, context-based data from large patient groups in real time are also changing how life sciences companies approach patient engagement. Some companies are seeking to bring clinicians, payers, and patients together in therapy-specific social networks, online and through traditional professional conferences and sponsorships, which they hope will result in greater information exchange and data-mining capabilities. But there are still two challenges life sciences companies must face when building successful multi-stakeholder therapy-area networks: 1) providing relevant, compliant content and 2) managing the flood of incoming, context-based data from customers and patients. Leveraging actual, real-life, individual behavioral data – not data from surveys or forums – is the biggest big data challenge of all, in fact.

Forward-thinking life sciences technology leaders are starting to resolve this dual challenge by integrating their CRM and content management systems into a unified cloud-based network that supports a holistic approach to customer engagement and data management across all platforms including mobile, in person and social media channels. With the cloud, big pharma will finally be agile and responsive enough to effectively rally global networks of multiple stakeholders around a specific therapy area.

Lisa Barbadora is president and owner of marketing and public relations firm Barbadora INK. She can be reached at lbarbadora@barbadoraink.com .


1“Pfizer: Putting the Patient at the Center of its Drug Development Universe,” Life Sciences Leader, January 2015. For more: http://www.lifescienceleader.com/doc/pfizer-putting-the-patient-at-the-center-of-its-drug-development-universe-0001

2 “Four interesting Trends in Healthcare Social Media,” Ogilvy Worldwide, September, 2014. http://social.ogilvy.com/social-health-check-4-interesting-trends-in-healthcare-social-media/

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