“Pharma need to start demonstrating a culture shift through actions rather than just words” - European Medical Journal

“Pharma need to start demonstrating a culture shift through actions rather than just words”

7 Mins
General Healthcare

Karen Taylor, Research Director at Deloitte UK

Interviewed by Louise Rogers  @EMG_GOLD


As Research Director, Karen Taylor heads up the Centre for Health Solutions, delivering insights and thought leadership to the healthcare and life sciences industry. We spoke to Taylor about the key challenges and opportunities met by the pharmaceutical industry, raised in Deloitte’s recent research report, Pharma and the connected patient.


Q: It is suggested that the era of ‘digital transformation’ will allow easier adoption of a patient-centric environment, but given the breadth of the transformation required, do you think it will be even more challenging for the industry to adopt this ethos?

A: I don’t think it will be even more challenging, but it does require the industry to change their culture. As we showed in our report, Pharma and the connected patient, a lot of companies have yet to develop a comprehensive strategy to implement patient centricity. Producing a few apps and communication platforms that allow a better connection with patients doesn’t make a company more patient-centric and the pharma industry has a way to go in demonstrating their patient centricity. What needs to happen is a culture shift, a transition from a culture that traditionally revolved around producing blockbuster drugs, to one that revolves around demonstrating how those drugs can transform healthcare for patients. Pharma needs to engage with patients across the entire value chain and think of them as someone who can have real input into the products development.


Q: That said, what is the number one challenge for the pharma industry in 2018?

A: This year, the number one challenge for pharma will be improving the returns from pharma innovation. The average cost of bringing a new asset to market has increased significantly over the last decade, while average peak sales have declined. Pharma companies therefore need to reduce their R&D costs and can achieve this by adopting a patient-centric approach to the R&D lifecycle. By using digital, pharma can collect data communicated by patients through artificial intelligence and other technologies, and this can lead to improvements in both the recruitment and commitment to clinical trials. It will also enable them to receive valuable insight and feedback from patients, in the form of real-world evidence, which could ultimately lead to the production of a successful drug that patients are more likely to adhere to, ultimately leading to better health outcomes.


Q: Your research reports that the number of apps produced by pharma companies has tripled between 2013 and 2016. Do you see apps continuing to be a primary tool in connecting pharma to its patients?

A: Whatever industry you are in, apps are the universal approach for companies to connect with their customers and will be for the foreseeable future. Approximately 80% of individuals in the UK own a smart phone, which is likely to be with them most of the time. What it boils down to is the design of the app. If an app simply provides a patient with information on one condition and they have multiple issues, then this will not resonate with people any more than the traditional one-way communication methods. However, if the app provides interactive information, discussions, and personalised answers to concerns and questions, this will make an effective app stand out from others.


Q: Companies such as Amazon and Google are not only good at meeting the needs of the clients but are also able to anticipate their needs. What does pharma need to do to stay ahead and deliver services that go beyond expectation?

A: To stay ahead, pharma should consider developing partnerships and collaborations with such companies, using their brand, design expertise, and knowledge of customer behaviours to improve performance; we are already seeing this happen. An issue we highlight in our report is the need to improve digital literacy and for pharma to acquire the requisite skills and talent, including developing their own talent in house, so that they are able to fully understand and implement the use of digital technologies. However, there is significant competition for digital and analytical skills and talent, and an effective option for pharma is to partner with the technology companies that already have these skills. They can then utilise these partnerships to develop their own skills in house, and/or bring in experts to do what’s needed in a more effective, cost-efficient way.


Q: Your research reports how only 30% of patients would feel comfortable sharing personal and sensitive data with pharma apps. What does pharma need to do alongside continuing to publicise all their data, to build a more trusted and transparent relationship with their patients?

A: The results obtained in our survey of patient groups show that the biggest concern is around trust which, in turn, is impacted by concerns regarding fair and transparent pricing. Our research showed that patient groups were suspicious as to what pharma would do with the information they collected and the privacy of personal data. Therefore, if pharma wants to gain patient trust, they need to demonstrate how they are securing patient data and be far more transparent with their approach to pricing and what patient data they are using to determine their pricing of specific products. Furthermore, if patients provide feedback on the usefulness or otherwise of health apps or patient portals, they need to see that the company has listened and is taking action on their feedback. Pharma need to start demonstrating a culture shift through actions rather than just words and show how and why the patient is important to them.


Q:You mention how patients shy away from using health technology due to limited understanding of the information presented. What can pharma do to encourage individuals with low health literacy to use their technology?

A: Low health literacy is associated with a higher use of medical services, so there is incentive for all stakeholders in the health ecosystem to improve patient health literacy. This covers improving understanding of both the medical terminology surrounding their condition and the technology used to help manage their condition. Pharma is well placed to help improve patients digital and health literacy. This can be achieved through improving the types and quality of the information provided. If you are discharged from hospital and given a leaflet explaining to you the how, when, and why of your medication, it is more likely that that leaflet will get thrown into a drawer and forgotten about. On the other hand, if you receive this information on an interactive health app, which provides a two-way conversation, and uses simple language, graphics, and images, then you can begin to improve health literacy, stimulate patient engagement, and improve the customer experience.


Q: Blockchain is currently a huge leading technology that the pharma industry is seeking to capitalise. Through what avenues can pharma utilise the technology to improve its drug supply chain? Is blockchain an answer to the financial challenges faced by smaller operators along the supply chain, and can you see it ultimately saving patient costs?

A: In the last couple of years, blockchain technology has become part of the conversations surrounding the supply chain and how it might help improve the management of clinical trials, for example to insure authenticity and traceability of patient recruitment and consent and reliability of real-world evidence. As of yet there are limited case examples. Ultimately it is an enabling technology and could provide an answer in terms of improving security given it enables tracking of where and why changes have been made. There is also a suggestion that it could be used to develop new funding models, but this too will require a culture change and an understanding of how it works, to be implemented properly. There will be initial costs; however, this may save money in the long run, through addressing security and regulatory requirements and could lead to a drug supply system that is more secure, more efficient, and less expensive to operate, while providing evidence of compliance.

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