Prepared Patients Can Be Pharma’s Best Advocates

By Laura Wilson

The world of conference attendance may have changed, but learning about the importance of collaborating with patients throughout the drug development and commercialization process remains the same.

Laura Wilson, a member of the patient strategy team in Fingerpaint’s Cedar Knolls, N.J., office, highlights some key takeaways from the virtual eyeforpharma conference sessions for pharmaceutical marketers.

Q: What were some of the overall themes at the conference?

The emphasis on learning from people living with chronic health conditions continues. There were a number of sessions copresented by pharmaceutical executives and patients that stressed the importance, and benefit, of involving patients in diverse planning activities related to research, access, and patient support programs. This reflects the need for more advanced models for patient journeys that go beyond the interactions and stakeholders related solely to a product buying cycle.

Q: Last year, you attended the eyeforpharma Patient Summit. Afterward, you wrote about the movement toward patient co-creation. What did you learn at this event that could add to that process?

As with any process, there is a learning curve. When pharma companies first started inviting patients and care partners to share their perspectives, it was often seen as a one-sided conversation. Patients shared their challenges, and pharma companies used these stories to help build their understanding and sensitivity to the real-world experiences that patients and care partners face throughout a diagnostic and treatment journey.

Over time, it has become evident that these same patients and care partners can contribute more — and companies can then deepen their engagement and understanding — if they receive training on how to best serve as a patient contributor.

For example, patients who learn about how clinical trials are set up can make recommendations about realistic involvement. Patients who understand the FDA approval process and what pharma companies can legitimately do to support them may be able to provide relevant feedback on programs that are in development.

And, as always, it is important to invite a range of patients to the table — those who have advocacy and influencing skills as well as those who may just be learning how to navigate the health system — to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the wide range of patient experiences.

Q: What other aspects of patient engagement are evolving?

It was interesting to hear several speakers recognize where marketing teams have excelled, including the development of patient journeys that are focused on patients’ attitudes, behaviors, and interactions related to their condition and possible treatment options. But sometimes these journeys have limitations; they don’t always reflect the reality of patients who have comorbidities, or those who might get stuck at certain points of the journey. In addition, these journeys are often developed with a specific patient type in mind.

Now that there are more opportunities to engage with patients and care partners digitally, it may also be time to invest in journeys that portray the diversity of experiences that patients may have. This can lead to more targeted communications that allow brands to address the myriad challenges, supports, and successes that patients navigate along the way.

A related topic is the industry’s approach to ongoing “support” for patients. In a world being transformed by healthcare consumerism, it may be time to trade in the PSP (patient support program) language and advance our thinking to be about patient empowerment.

In addition to the very critical support of helping patients gain access to medications, how else can ongoing communications provide value beyond adherence? One way is to consider another two-way conversation: This time, one in which patients share their real-world treatment experience with the pharma companies.

Imagine the possibilities of gathering patient-submitted data in a post-marketing phase and being able to measure and share outcomes over time. That is truly a vision of patient engagement and empowerment.