Can pharma ever be “patient centric”?

  • Patient centricity is not as important as shareholders and Wall Street.
  • CEO’s are often compensated on financial metrics and focus on the balance sheet.
  • Patient centricity starts with an organizations people but Millennials are avoiding careers in pharma because of the culture.

Patient centric.  I keep hearing that phrase, but as pharma continues to concentrate on the balance sheet and shareholders, patients, as customers, are becoming more distant. Millennials are so used to being treated like numbers in healthcare that they are driving changes in the way patients are treated.  They see health care as the same as filling a car with gas; stop, see a HCP and get an Rx without the inconvenience of having to waste time.

What is patient centricity?

When I started my career in ethical pharma marketing 18 years ago, my brand teams we did things to help patients understand their health condition, how to manage it and we connected them, online, to other patients who had similar experiences.  Yes, I had to go through meetings to explain “why” but as soon as research showed the need I was given the OK.  Today “the need” has been replaced with “ROI”.

Rarely is anything done within big pharma to help patients manage their health condition, help caregivers worry less or help HCP’s, at the point of care, answer common questions without telling a patient to “search online”.

Patient centricity is understanding that good marketing revolves around the patient before, during and after treatment.  Its marketers who understand that patients feel like a number in a health care system that treats conditions rather than people.  It’s not having a client ask me for a strategy to minimize side effects while another client asks me “how can we focus on actually communicating that we want to help?”.

A reporter from a major newspaper asked me last week “what happened to the focus on patients as people?”  My response was that pharma became “big pharma” and that the new crop of CEO’s were laser focused on Wall Street and the shareholders.  Just look at Gilead who hired a new CEO with a $30 million performance package based on sales incentives.

In the end, any pharma organization is only as good as the people it hires.  The CEO of Novartis recently said he wanted to allow employees to wear jeans to work to attract Millennials.  What he is missing is that Millennials could care less about the dress code they want a sense purpose in the work they do and know they are making a difference. How do you think they feel when they read that their new drug costs six-figures?  How do you think they feel when they read that diabetes patients are skipping on insulin because they can’t afford it?  How do you think they feel when their work environment is open offices, which they despise, and a culture of back-to-back meetings?

Pharma will never be patient centric until they hire people who really care and are willing to fight for patients and CEO’s who communicate that Wall Street can take a back seat to helping people live better lives with the drugs we make.