Time to Appoint a 'Chief Patient Officer'?

February 1, 2012
Sarah Krüg

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-02-01-2012, Volume 0, Issue 0

Sarah Krug asks if it is time for pharma companies to appoint a Chief Patient Officer, a new position designed to build an accord around patient trust.

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

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.

Wanted: Chief Patient Officer

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.

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 sarahkrug1810@gmail.com or on Twitter @sarahkrug1 #ChiefPatientOfficer

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