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Patient Engagement: The Missing Link

Where, why, and how life science organizations should focus on patient engagement throughout the treatment development lifecycle.

Meghan Lynch & Maren Mellen

Healthcare provider with heart-shaped stethoscope.
Photo by Patty Brito on Unsplash

Recent advancements in treatment technology have enabled Life Science organizations to radically reimagine the patient experience. Personalized medicine, gene therapy, and AI have equipped providers with new patient insights that help save lives. Although companies have increasingly focused on the specific, unique needs of each patient with advancements in individualized care, the consumerization of patients and lack of multichannel patient engagement remains a significant issue for both patients and providers.

For example, treatment costs in the U.S. are so high that, on average, 50% of adults with chronic conditions stop taking their medication within one year of being prescribed.¹ This leads to treatment non-adherence costs between $100 billion and $289 billion per year — adding a financial burden to an already strained U.S. healthcare system.² High costs may also lead to “stretching” — lengthening the time between refills in an attempt to reduce the financial burden — which can render treatments ineffective or even have adverse health effects for patients.

In addition to high drug costs, patients may stop taking their prescription for reasons including but not limited to: misinformation/forgetfulness, perceived adverse side effects, treatment holiday where patients take time away from a treatment in order to recover from actual side effects, or belief that the perception that their prescribed medication/treatment would have little effect on their disease.³ Additionally, poor communication with patients can increase the risk of nonadherence by 19%.⁴

Safeguarding patients with chronic conditions starts with ensuring that they follow their prescribed treatment. Not only does the high cost of treatment cause stress for patients, but treatment non-adherence causes about 125,000 deaths per year.² Life Science organizations must work harder to engage with patients, provide education, and have clear communication with both patients and providers to produce effective treatments.

Life Science organizations should adopt a patient engagement mindset and strategy that spans across the entire company, from R&D to Commercial, and ensure that patient insights are shared and magnified throughout the value chain.

A key to understanding patient engagement is recognizing the impact across the treatment development lifecycle from clinical trials through patient services and support:

Patient Engagement is Evident Across the Entire Treatment Development Lifecycle.
Meghan Lynch, Maren Mellen, Slalom LLC.

The following sections take a deeper dive into three key areas where Life Sciences organizations are choosing to invest in patient engagement: Research & Development (R&D), Marketing & Promotion, and Patient Services & Support.

Research & Development (R&D)

Starting at the beginning of the pharmaceutical drug development lifecycle, R&D organizations have the unique opportunity to introduce patients to a newly developed treatment, leave them with a positive association of the treatment, as well as reinforce the process for starting and staying on treatment. Also, R&D organizations can bridge the gap for the Marketing and Commercialization phases, provide powerful insights on patient challenges from clinical trials, and identify how to best engage with the wider patient population — as promoting diversity in clinical trials remains a salient issue.

However, R&D organizations are typically so focused on asset development and under strict timelines to get treatments quickly through the clinical trial phases that they often lack the time and resources to adequately engage patients. For those organizations that try to engage with Community Health Centers to broaden patient engagement and diversity, the timeline pressures often do not align with the resources and financial constraints that Community Health Centers face.

One way that R&D organizations can broaden patient engagement in clinical trials is by engaging with the community and local health centers early in the process. R&D organizations should bring on project managers dedicated to establishing partnerships with Community Health Centers, serve as liaisons between the research team and the Community Health Center team, and ensure that timelines meet both organizations’ needs. Finally, bringing on research aides who can bridge the gap between researchers and patients enables patients who are unfamiliar with the clinical trial process to become more familiar and comfortable with it.

Marketing & Promotion

Since the FDA was given the authority to approve pharmaceutical products for marketing in the U.S. with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (passed in 1938), American patients have been surrounded by advertisements for prescription drugs and therapies.⁵ From clinical trials through post commercialization analysis, Life Science organizations collect enormous amounts of patient health data that help create targeted ads on cable, social media, newspapers, magazines, and more. However, with large-scale advertising, Life Science organizations risk reaching the wrong patients or the right patients at the wrong time. These organizations can curate a more personalized, engaging patient experience with point-of-care marketing and advertising.

Point-of-care marketing campaigns are strategically designed to educate and inspire patient action. They can range anywhere from a waiting room information pamphlet to a strategically placed bulletin board in a lobby or exam room. Campaigns can be branded or unbranded depending on the treatment offered; however, what makes point-of-care marketing advantageous is the timing, placement, and marketing of treatment information.

For example, patients entering the physical location for their primary healthcare provider may notice more general point-of-care campaigns that relate to a larger target audience (e.g., information on getting a seasonal flu shot). However, a patient entering a specialty doctor, like a dermatologist, would see more specific campaigns related to skin health and aging (e.g., identifying a cancerous vs. noncancerous mole or cosmetic surgeries).

With an investment in point-of-care marketing, organizations can pair custom, curated content with education that helps empower patients and providers with the education and information at the right time — leading to more impactful discussions to prescribe treatments and recommend over-the-counter products. By advertising at the doctor’s office, patients can have an open conversation with healthcare professionals and ask for additional context around why they endorse that specific product and/or treatment. However, organizations should be aware of their messaging and ensure that point-of-care marketing campaigns emphasize the benefits to the patient and do not oversell nor overmarket to their target audience, especially in the cases of rare or chronic diseases as they are often difficult for both patients and their families. For example, if treatment marketing displays unrealistic results, patients could be driven to treatment nonadherence because they do not see the impact they were expecting. However, with the right strategic investments in point-of-care marketing, Life Science organizations can close the gap between patient communication and education, foster a positive patient-provider relationship, and encourage adherence to prescribed treatment plans.

Patient Services & Support

Many Life Sciences organizations have built dedicated patient services and support programs to assist patients with their financial, clinical, and educational needs post commercialization of a new therapy. These programs oftentimes also include educational support to HCPs. Over the years, Patient Services organizations have expanded the services and offerings they provide, increasing the complexity of the organization as well as expanding the number of teams included under the Patient Services umbrella. This expansion sometimes leads to a disconnected patient experience, where patients are passed to various independent teams. Additionally, the services provided are not always the same services that patients are looking for. Quickly providing the right service with the right therapy, that aligns to the patient’s need can dramatically improve the patient’s experience as well as patient engagement overall. Lastly, it critical for Patient Services organizations to capture KPIs and performance data so that they can better improve upon the services provided and the experience engaging with their teams. They can also share these lessons learned with teams who are working in the earlier stages of the treatment development lifecycle, such as R&D and Marketing, thereby improving the performance of the entire organization.

Life Sciences companies should strive to adopt a patient engagement mindset that strategically supports the patient throughout each stage of the treatment development lifecycle. With an increased investment in R&D, Marketing & Promotion, and Patient Services & Support, Life Science organizations can begin closing the loop on:

  • Information
  • Communication
  • Education

At Slalom, we have a suite of Patient Engagement Offerings for Life Sciences companies that can help you either get started on your journey or advance the strategies you have already put in place:

Meghan Lynch, Maren Mellen, Slalom LLC.

These offerings represent a portion of the work that we can help you with your patient engagement efforts. We’d love to learn more about your business’ unique needs. If you have any questions about these offerings and/or would like to learn more, please reach out to Meghan Lynch or Maren Mellen.

About the Authors:

Meghan Lynch is a Principal at Slalom Nashville focused on improving patient engagement within Life Sciences and Healthcare.

Maren Mellen is a Consultant at Slalom Boston focused on Process Excellence, Life Sciences, and Healthcare.

Stay tuned for more to come on patient engagement in Spring 2022!

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