Is Pharma Taking the Wrong Approach to Patient-Centricity?

Richie Etwaru is chief digital officer at IMS Health.
Richie Etwaru is chief digital officer at IMS Health.

Patient-centricity is a hot topic among life sciences organizations today. As companies start to recognize that prioritizing customers is good for business, they are eager to find new ways to engage patients and build more profitable long-term relationships with their consumers.

Yet life-sciences companies often behave as though focusing on patient needs is simply a matter of asking, “How can we provide patients with more services?” Instead, they should be asking, “How can we deliver the best patient experience?”

As John Nosta, president of NostaLab, observes, “In today's complicated life-sciences world, we rely on statistics and the ubiquitous ‘P-value.' Yet today that P isn't only about pharma, pills and payers. It's also about what almost every other industry already knows: the patient.”

Indeed, life-sciences companies today want patients to come to them for more than a prescription. They are trying to become the kind of brands that patients care about—and from which they want to purchase added services. But most patients don't see pharmaceutical companies that way. Frankly, they don't like us.

See also: More than a pathway: Why patient experience > patient journey

Love, Hate and Branding

Imagine that every human being has just a few emotional units to assign to the many brands they use. We allocate those valuable units to various brands on two pie charts we keep in our heads. One chart is for brands we like, while the other is for brands we dislike.

There are certain brands I absolutely love. Every time I engage with one of my favorite brands, I feel good about the experience. And because I like those brands, I'm open to hearing about and trying new products and services they recommend. There are also many brands I dislike. Pharmaceutical companies need to move from “dislike” to “like” in the consumer's mind. Making that transition is difficult—but not impossible.

See also: Making mobile patient portals useful

The Genius of Uber

I used to hate taking taxis. Today, I love it. What made the difference? Uber.

For me, taking a taxi was a negative experience. The cars were often dirty and smelled bad; the drivers were rude and always on the phone. Uber replaced those negatives with clean cars, friendly drivers and extra amenities (such as phone chargers). But the real genius of Uber is that it identified the ugliest, most difficult part of the experience and removed it completely.

The ugly part of taking a taxi is that you never know what the fare will be, so you're constantly worrying about what route the driver is taking and whether you're being overcharged. Uber removed the pricing issue and took the uncertainty out of the taxi experience.

When you take Uber, you know from the start that you're going to be charged the correct fare. The system calculates the best price from where you are to where you want to go. If the driver takes a longer route, he's wasting his resources, not yours. You get the same price regardless. That's how Uber moved the taxi experience from “dislike” to “like” in the consumer's mind, and now Uber can offer a new range of services to consumers who like their brand.

People enjoy buying products and services from brands they like. The key is to make the primary consumer relationship exceptional, and only then provide other services. It's about becoming a consumer organization that focuses first on improving the customer experience rather than selling products.

See also: FDA forms first patient engagement committee

Making Life Sciences Patient-Centric

Uber studied the consumer experience and took out the ugly parts. In life sciences, we're doing the opposite. We're adding shiny new services to an inherently ugly experience—one that frequently starts with a patient's pain or illness, and is often marked by frustration or anxiety —with no attempt to identify and address the underlying issues.

For life-sciences companies to truly understand the patient experience, we need to study it so carefully that we figure out what isn't working and find a way to fix it. How? Technology can help. Technology today enables companies to listen to the sentiments of the marketplace, understand what people like and dislike and determine why they prefer one brand over another.

By listening to customers, and working to understand the good, bad and ugly parts of the patient experience, life-sciences companies can become patient-centric and move from “dislike” to “like.” Only then will they buy more of our products and services.

Richie Etwaru is chief digital officer at IMS Health.