Gathering patient perspectives in pharma is a growing focus for the industry, and for good reason – there’s plenty of data to suggest that centering patients and their experiences are much more than just noble ideals. In one study comparing trials with significant patient-centered elements to traditional trials, researchers found that 87% of the patient-centered trials had positive results, much higher than 68% for the traditional trials. And companies that take more patient-centric approaches to trial design and execution have moved the needle on reducing average trial enrollment time and shortening the timeline from first patient dose to product launch.
Clearly, pharmaceutical and medical device teams can add significant value to medical affairs, clinical, and commercial activities by making patient engagement more frequent and more meaningful. Let’s examine how teams can add this strategic capability and break down a few barriers to better patient engagement.
Building a more patient-centric approach
Even prior to the abrupt rise of virtual interaction brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth, remote monitoring, and digital transformation, in general, were already emerging as tactics for better patient engagement. Deloitte reported that to build a more patient-centric organization, life science companies should:
- Harness digital and data analytics opportunities to engage patients
- Collect data on patient outcomes and their unmet needs
- Form deeper collaborations within the industry, including with advocacy groups, clinicians, and health plans
As more companies become mindful of their carbon footprint and tighter travel budgets, they’ll seek to build this competency. Hybrid virtual engagement – asynchronous discussions combined with real-time virtual interactions like webcasts – provides a flexible approach to teams who want to engage patients, collect and review the resulting data, and determine the next steps for various activities across the product development lifecycle. Hybrid virtual engagement also avoids many of the pitfalls of traditional patient interaction methods like in-person monitoring, in-depth interviews, or focus groups.
Barriers to better patient engagement
Your organization may believe it is patient-centric by nature – after all, you develop and launch therapies designed to treat patients. But as the Deloitte report points out, the patient perspective is typically filtered through the lens of physicians or regulators. Designing trials and creating educational materials with patients in mind isn’t really the same thing as bringing the patient into the process from the beginning. Fortunately, virtual engagement solves this issue in a number of ways.
“We work really hard to incorporate the patient’s voice into everything we do. But often, the patient’s voice is filtered through a healthcare provider or another stakeholder. So it was extremely important to be able to hear directly from patients, without someone putting words in their mouth or changing the tone, as to what their experiences were.” – Within3 medical affairs client
Consider a clinical trial requiring patients to drive to an investigation site every few weeks. The patient may not live nearby or might rely on public transit subject to schedule changes or weather delays. Patients also have work and family commitments, health issues, or other factors that may make this schedule unappealing or just impossible – putting them at risk of dropping out of the study. In other cases, life science teams may simply be reluctant to prioritize direct patient engagement due to compliance and industry regulations.
Engaging patients via a virtual platform eliminates roadblocks that would otherwise negatively impact engagement efforts. An asynchronous environment means patients can participate in online discussions or periodic check-ins on their own schedule without traveling. The ability to stay anonymous, answer private questions, and provide completely candid feedback without disclosing personal medical or identification information protects patients and life science teams from a compliance standpoint.
Preparing for patient-centricity
Good patient engagement strategies enable true patient focus across life science organizations. Clinical teams can design patient-focused trials with the right virtual engagement tactics and tools, and the patient story can enable medical affairs teams to help healthcare professionals understand more about the patient experience. Commercial teams can solicit candid patient input to craft messages with a better understanding of a particular diagnosis’s medical and emotional implications.
How can pharmaceutical and medical device teams build this capability? And what are the keys to successful patient engagement?
At least partially, the answer begins with understanding what your team is trying to achieve. In other words, begin with the destination and plan accordingly. When it comes to designing a successful virtual patient engagement session, key best practices include:
- Adequately preparing patients for online engagement
- Using a systematic approach to question selection
- Providing multiple channels and opportunities for input
- Establishing a supportive community setting
Watch the video to hear what our global client success team has learned from helping clients lead patient engagement sessions. You can also scroll down to read the transcript.
Video transcript: Prioritizing the patient voice
Using the platform really just is a playing field leveler, I think. It allows them to reach people at a depth and a frequency that they might not have been able to reach them before, you know, when they’re trying to engage them in person.
The patients were just extremely enthusiastic. They had started with a face-to-face or a Zoom meeting and they were actually really moved by the company’s desire to engage them in this way and to really understand what they were going through, not only themselves but with their family members.
This opens the door to a very wide variety of patients and even caregivers that can, you know, share their input, share their journeys, and share their stories.
So they actually open up quite a bit about themselves and from that our client actually learn new things about the patients and how maybe they deal with their disease over time. Just some things that only a patient would know.
The longitudinal thing I saw with this is that they took the experience from these patient engagements and extended it to mid-level physicians, which are often the people that see these symptoms first in the community. And then also obviously with KOLs and other community physicians.
The insights and the input the client received were just extremely valuable, highly in depth.
The Within3 platform used in this way gave patients a voice in a way that’s accessible and convenient for them.
Some of these particular patients in this therapeutic area, for example, may have difficulty with being mobile or having long extended discussions in one room or area. So this need was really met through our asynchronous offering cuz it really allowed the patients to discuss at a place in time of the convenience. With
This platform, they’re able to kind of come and go at their convenience, kind of discuss their experiences with other patients who were going through, through similar things. And always ensure that they had an equal share of voice, no matter how much time they were able to spend on the platform. And when they came and went.
I think a lot of times that psychological barrier, like, are my patients willing to do this? They are, they will be and they wanna be heard, especially when they have a condition that isn’t widely known about or recognized.