Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands

Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands, picture of pill and capsuleConsumers demand more outwardly focused brands

Consumers, driven by mindful Millennials, are demanding that brands take a stand on social issues. It is no longer acceptable for brands to look at the messy world and say, “Not my job!” Certainly Pharma brands are more constrained by consent decrees and regulations. However, that won’t stop consumers from saying, “Not my problem,” when it comes to demanding more from their health care brands.

According to one of my favorite trend spotters, Trend Watching winning brands will start contentious, painful and necessary conversations.”  That means going beyond product claims and bland unbranded campaigns to talk about polarizing topics. Take Starbucks, which recently jumped into the fray about race relations.  One example with particular relevance to Pharma is Pantene India’s campaign that asks consumers to point out ridiculous claims made by beauty products that don’t work. How about Pharma pointing out the ridicules claims made by nutraceuticals?

Picture of Pantene India campaign

Talk is necessary, but not sufficient

But talk is not enough. Today’s consumers demand action. Describing their “Branded Government” trend, Trend Watching boldly pronounces 2015 as “the year for progressive brands to initiate, undertake or support meaningful civic transformation.”

One example of this Private-Public Partnership is the WAZE traffic app’s Connected Citizen’s partnership that exchanges data with local governments around the world with the aim of improving traffic patterns. And it is not just new school companies taking civic action. Volvo is partnering with the Swedish Government to create roads that can charge electric vehicles.

Waze Connected Citizens Campaign

Brand Activism: What’s a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager to do?

Certainly there are enough unmet health needs for Pharma to partner with government to make people healthier. What about a weight loss brand teaming up with local government to promote better eating habits? This initiative may also seem less self-serving, because if successful, the campaign would slim down the market for the prescription weight loss products.

To health care purists, branding has no role to play in the choice of a pharmaceutical product. The product should be chosen based on efficacy, safety and increasingly, price. However in practice, physicians often have 2-3 brands they feel are interchangeable. In categories such as Multiple Sclerosis, HCPs often let the patient chose. Why? Because then the patient has skin in the game.

In addition, research conducted early in the DTC era, found that patients who ask for and are given a specific brand are more likely to be adherent compared to patients not making a request. So to me (admittedly not a health care purist), branding is more likely to be beneficial than harmful to patients.

No more navel gazing for Pharma

Picture of navel caption No more navel gazing for Pharma Marketers

So it pays to do it right. And paradoxically, in today’s socially conscious environment, good branding involves talking less about the product and doing more in the world. No more navel gazing! The key to building great brands, is to talk less about them. The old axiom, “actions speak louder than words” is today’s branding rallying cry!

For ideas on how to apply this trend to your pharmaceutical brand, check in tomorrow for my next post, “4 Ways to Become an Activist Pharmaceutical Brand.”

The #Powerof1Million changes everything

Last week, I got an email from 23andMe announcing that they had “genotyped more than one million people worldwide,” and that I was number 85,552. Big news for a company that has weathered a lot of ups and downs, particularly in November 2013 when the FDA demanded that they stop providing health information.

As number 85,552, I had signed up prior to the health information shut down, so I was privy to my health information. Luckily, as it turns out, my health information didn’t contain any earth shattering news. My ancestry results however were a big surprise.

Even with my unexpected genealogy results, my 23andMe results didn’t have a big impact on me personally. However, professionally, as a health care communicator, I believe that the fact one million consumers are willing to be genotyped is a big deal.

As their press release states, “Today, 23andMe has the world’s largest database of re-contactable individuals who have consented to participate in [genetic] research.” Talk about empowered consumers.

And 23andMe is just one of the many emerging services and products aimed at putting more health information into the hands of consumers. Consider the Scanadu Scout, a device that sends blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and blood oxygen levels to a consumer’s iPhone.

I believe that the colossal amount of health information now available to consumers ups the ante for health care communicators in three ways:

The ability to explain complex health information in simple ways is even more critical than ever before. Having a commitment to health literacy built into a company’s DNA will be the cost of doing business in our data rich world.

Factoring in the consumer’s emotional increases in importance. Understanding the impact health information can have on a person’s emotional state can be the difference between effectively communicating and sending a consumer into a downward spiral of fear and confusion.

Helping consumers turn knowledge into action is vital. Providing concrete next steps to help consumers act upon what they have learned turns reams of data into potentially lifesaving information.

As health care communicators, our ability to help consumers process the avalanche of health care information coming their way can make a real difference in people’s lives. For a robust understanding of what is coming down the pike, read Eric Topol’s latest book, “The Patient Will See You Now.” The book is a veritable canon on the trends in personalized medicine. As 23andMe’s #Powerof1Million announcement makes clear, the future is closer than we think.

My Madeleine Albright Moment

I signed up for 23andMe a few years ago for professional reasons. This was before November 2013 when the FDA told 23andMe to stop providing health results. As a health care marketer, I admired how the company’s whimsical pink and green infographics made genetics both appealing and understandable.

When I mentioned to friends that I had signed up, many said that they wouldn’t want to know if there was some disease lurking in their genetic code. I’ll admit that a chill went through my body as I thought, “What if I find out something really bad?” Luckily, my repressed WASP upbringing allowed me to shelve any looming unpleasantries in the back of my mind.

When the 23andMe test results came, nothing really bad popped up. My results weren’t that earth shattering and made sense based on my family history. I was higher risk for Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) and Atrial Fibrillation.

At the time, I largely ignored the ancestral results. They were pretty lame, telling me what years of sunburnt skin told me: I was 99.9% Caucasian. As for country of origin, I knew that I was a U.K. mutt with a small German streak.

Several years went by, and 23andMe continued to email me with updates. One day in April, I happened to click on one all the way through to the ancestry data.

And that was when I had my Madeleine Albright moment: 19% ASHKENAZI.

When my mother was later tested, it revealed that she was 49% Ashkenazi, totally unbeknownst to her. We hypothesize that my maternal grandfather, Irving Crook, was probably Jewish. He came to America from England when he was 6 months old. But that didn’t mean he was of English descent. England was most likely just a stopover for his Eastern European parents escaping persecution. We will probably never really know, and most likely Irving didn’t know either.

How does this change my life? Not much. I still sing in the church choir and help organize our annual Fish & Chips dinner. However, the bigger question is what impact did my health results have on my behavior? The biggest change is that I now get up during long plane rides to help prevent blood clots, something everybody should do anyway.

I recognize that for many people, the 23andMe health results can have major consequences. Had I gotten more devastating news, it could have sent me down a rabbit hole of unnecessary, expensive and potentially dangerous medical testing. As Atul Gawande says in his recent Yorker article, “Overkill”, “Millions of Americans get tests, drugs, and operations that won’t make them better, may cause harm, and cost billions.” I also realize that not everybody is equipped to deal with bad news like Angela Jolie, who upon learning she had the BRCA gene, chose prophylactic surgery.

But despite these caveats, I think the author of “The Patient Will See You Now”, Eric Topol is right, the personal data genie is out of the bottle. In the opening pages of his book, he makes the following bold statement:

“We are embarking on a time when each individual will have all their own medical data and the computing power to process it in the context of their own world. There will be comprehensive medical information about a person that is eminently accessible, analyzable and transferable. This will set up a tectonic power shift, putting the individual at center stage.”

It is true that our health care system with its practice of defensive medicine and misaligned economic incentives has the power to distort good data into bad unintended consequences. This fear drives the cry for a more measured approach to personal health data transparency. We end up like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to hold back the flood of health care information.

However, the time and effort is better spent helping this free flow of personal data transform our flawed health care system into a more patient oriented system. That’s why education and good health care information are even more critical going forward. Don’t withhold information, teach people how to deal with it.

Overcoming the DTC Fear Factor

FDA gets on the “Less is More” bandwagon

The “Less is More” approach is gaining traction in health care. Fear is what often causes people to gird themselves with potentially unnecessary health care interventions: fear of getting it wrong, of missing out, of being criticized, of dying. Atul Gwande details the bravery required to challenge the medical status quo in his recent book Being Mortal. Gwande does a great job of debunking the myth of “more care is better care” when it comes to end of life treatment.

Now “Less is More” is being applied to health care communication. The FDA is overcoming the DTC Fear Factor and casting aside unnecessary risk information with the intent to drive superior patient comprehension. The FDA has issued draft guidelines that require less, not more, risk information in the Consumer Brief Summary portion of DTC print ads. PharmaGuy provides a comprehensive (and as always, entertaining) review of the proposed guidelines in his February Newsletter.

But the FDA is not using the editing pen wily-nilly. Knowledge born of research, is taking the edge off of their DTC Fear Factor. Upcoming research includes a study on the risk information presented in television ads. The objective is to see whether listing only the most actionable risks leads to better comprehension than the usual mind-numbing laundry list.

Certainly the FDA has reason to fear getting the level of risk information wrong. As Daniel Carpenter, a Harvard professor who studies the FDA posits in a Health Affairs article, the FDA is driven by it’s “desire to safeguard its reputation for protecting the public’s health.” The FDA’s “Less is More” approach certainly has its critics. Public Citizen criticized the FDA for its proposed August ’14 guidelines on how pharmaceutical companies should present risk information to physicians

This new “Less is More” approach to risk information demonstrates that the FDA is willing to undergo reputational risk to do the right thing for patients by presenting the information in a way patients can understand and act on. There is substantive evidence that links lack of patient understanding with negative health outcomes.”

So what is the likelihood of pharmaceutical review committees embracing the “Less is More” philosophy regarding risk information? Certainly the new review FDA guidelines will help, but as anybody who has sat through a review committee meeting can tell you, there is wide latitude in how FDA guidelines are interpreted. Many opt for the most conservative approach.

My guess is that review committees won’t get over their DTC Fear Factor anytime soon. There is just too much reputational risk. And it is hard to blame them. The media’s knee-jerk reaction is to attribute any misstep to a nefarious motive on the part of Pharma.

Overcoming the DTC Fear Factor will require Marketing Departments to do the hard work of proving that using fewer and simpler words to describe a product or disease state results in better comprehension. Just as the FDA Researchers helped their Reviewers get over the DTC Fear Factor with data, Pharma marketers will need data to bolster the courage of their Review Committees with solid research.

However, conducting research brings along its own “Fear Factor.” What if the language causes consumers to overestimate the efficacy or underplay the risks of the product? So why bother? In the past, trying to boost outcomes by improving communication comprehension was a “nice-to-have,” despite the compelling health literacy case.

But now, the Affordable Care Act makes reimbursement dependent on outcomes and patient experience. So ensuring patient comprehension is critical to the financial viability of Pharma’s direct customers: physicians, hospital systems and health plans. So follow the dollar. Customers care, so pharma marketers should care too.

Complexity is easy in Pharma communication, just go to the label. Eliminating the DTC Fear Factor in Pharma will take hard work. However, in health care, the “Less is More” train has left the station. Time to put fear aside, join the FDA and jump on the “Less is More” bandwagon.

Tom Brady and Atul Gawande: Designing a Different End Game

Tom Brady and Atul Gawande, two Bostonians with wildly divergent careers, both take the same approach to designing a different end game; they flout the conventional wisdom to achieve their objectives. For marketers wanting to change the trajectory of their brand, company, industry or career, these two prominent Bostonians show the power of doing things differently.

Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has always been vocal about wanting a different end game, one that would keep him playing high-level football in his 40’s. So according to a recent New York Times Magazine article, Tom defies conventional training practices designed at building strength in favor of those that create more pliable muscles. He credits his unique training practice with sparing him from career ending injuries, ultimately enabling him to win 4 Super Bowls (so far).

Atul Gawande, Boston surgeon and best selling author, challenges the more medicine is better medicine dogma that runs deep in our American cultural veins. Gawande addresses the literal “end game” in his best-selling book Being Mortal, to propose a radical new approach on appropriate care in our last years. Rather than doing everything possible to ensure maximum patient safety and longevity, Gawande contends that instead, a doctor’s role is to ensure that people leave this earth in a way that respects their values and priorities.

To do this, physicians and family members need to understand what constitutes quality of life from the patient’s point of view. In one example, Gawande tells of a daughter’s surprise at her father’s definition of quality of life as “being able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football.” Her father had been a professor emeritus so she assumed he would not have wanted to live unless it was as a fully functioning intellectual. It was this knowledge that helped her make an entirely different choice for her father when faced with a life and death decision by her father’s surgeons.

I wasn’t so lucky with my father. The idea that more medicine, more effort, is not always appropriate was a totally foreign concept to me for most of his illness (and most of my life). So the poor guy cycled in and out of the hospital to rehab a number of times, getting weaker with every visit. By the time a palliative nurse friend of mine, helped me to see the light, it was too late. Having made the decision to bring him home after our post-dinner talk, I received a call the next morning that he had died in the Rehab institution.

While I can take comfort that my father seemed to enjoy all the attention he received at the Rehab facility, I often wonder if he would preferred a different ending. With my 88-year old mother, I have an opportunity not to make the same mistake.

The lessons of Gawande’s Being Mortal and Tom Brady’s historic Super Bowl victory transcend their individual career choices. Their work is testament to the truth of Einstein’s definition of insanity–doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. These two different men offer the same valuable lesson about the need to challenge the status quo to achieve a different result.

In the pharmaceutical industry where my company, extrovertic, does most of its work, there is a lot of organizational dogma about how to drive sales. It includes “HCPs write prescriptions, not patients,” or the time honored “the sales representative call is the best way to reach physicians.”

I know a lot of talented and progressive marketers who are confronting these doctrines on a daily basis. It’s hard work to be the one constantly going against the grain. But the experiences of Tom Brady and Atul Gawande are proof that a successful end game is worth the fight.

Three Prescriptions for Patient Centricity

Patient Focused. Patient Centric. Patient First. There are lots of buzzwords companies use to describe their aspirations for a renewed focus on patients. But as my 8th grade Latin teacher once told me,

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Whatever phrase your company uses, here are three prescriptions on how to “walk the talk” of patient centricity in 2015 (and avoid a dance with the devil)

1. Fully infuse the voice of the patient into drug development. Historically, patient marketers are among the last to join pre-commercial or even launch teams. To be more patient focused, teams need to be staffed with patient experts early in the game.

And once in the game, patient marketers should make development of customer service and adherence programs the first order of business. As payers and patients have to increasingly make cost/quality trade-offs, it is critical that marketers can prove that their patient services actually make a difference in adherence rates, patient experience and clinical outcomes.

In fact, patient services already a factor into 3rd party purchase decisions. For example, according to a Duke physician I heard speak at a conference, Eliquis, a medication in the very crowded stroke prevention category, was chosen over competitors because the brand had the strongest co-pay assistance program.

Or just listen. Patients in clinical trials are already shaping opinions of the drug through their online conversations. An extrovertic social media analysis found an average of 30,000 patient conversations taking a place every month by patients involved a clinical trial.

2. Partner with providers and payers to meaningfully improve the patient experience at the point of care. HCPs, Integrated Delivery Systems and Payers are going to be judged on outcomes and patient experience. Pharmaceutical companies have the know-how and resources to help their customers meet the triple aim of improving patient experience, lowering costs and driving better outcomes. Take a look at all the governmental metrics requirements and pick a few to partner on.

It will also be important to have an expansive definition of point-of-care, both in terms of place where care happens and the people who provide the care. Care is now being highly distributed, it’s happening at home, at the retail pharmacy, at work, at Costco and at urgent care centers. And with the looming primary care physician shortage, care will be increasingly be delivered by nurses, physician assistants and even lay health workers.

And let’s not forget the increasing role patients are playing in their own health with the explosion of wearable technology and the whole quantified-self movement. The point of care is now everywhere and the smart pharmaceutical marketers will be conducting pilots to figure out how they can add to the patient experience.

3. Adopt a cross-channel patient experience framework to conduct marketing activities. A good patient experience is one that is consistent throughout every interaction, whether it be through a website, a phone call or in person meeting. Many of these touchpoints are managed by different functions in a pharmaceutical company, yet to the consumer it all comes from the same company. So the company has got to start acting like one company.

And this one organization needs to be reoriented towards driving patient satisfaction rather than driving sales. Driving satisfaction doesn’t mean revenue generation takes a back seat. There is a whole body of literature that proves that higher customer satisfaction scores result in higher sales and profits, in industry after industry.

But first the voice of the patient needs to be heard. This will require an integrated system of collecting patient feedback in a way it can be acted upon. For example, how well is the medical information call center doing in meeting patient needs? I would guess most marketers don’t know.

So take these 3 Rx’s and make 2015 the year that pharma companies turn patient centric talk into action. (And to my eighth grade latin teacher, Mr. Riggs, I really did “disce diligentius.”)

The Orphan Impact: Small drugs drive big changes

Seems everybody’s talking orphan drugs these days. No wonder, according to EvaluatePharma’s 2013 Orphan Drug Report, orphan drugs are estimated to reach 15.9% of total worldwide prescription sales by 2018. But the orphan drug impact goes beyond sales numbers. I believe that the patient centricity blossoming in the rare disease divisions will eventually spill over into the primary care divisions of pharmaceutical companies.

With the big blockbuster primary care drugs, development success lay primarily with company research departments. The halls of Pharma echo with stories of researcher heroics—how the lone scientist kept a molecule from hitting the drug dustbin only to become the next blockbuster.

But in orphan drugs, the heroes are as likely to be individual patient family members as researchers. In some cases the drug literally starts with patient families. Thanks to advances in digital technology and social media, orphan drug patient families play a major role in every aspect of bringing a drug to market, going far beyond traditional advocacy roles. Now individuals are able to leap tall barriers with a click of a mouse to accomplish superhero feats formerly reserved for massive organizations like the NIH and pharmaceutical companies.

Consider the role of patients, families and organizations in:

Disease discovery: Matt Might, a father whose son had a disease entirely unknown to science, leapt over barriers of scientific self-interest to find other patients and give his son’s illness a name.

A well-known blogger in his field, Matt’s post about his quest helped identify patients like his son across the globe. In the New Yorker article, which describes Matt’s disease naming odyssey, a Duke geneticist, who worked with Matt, sums up the new patient paradigm with this quote:

“It’s kind of a shift in the scientific world that we have to recognize—that, in this day of social media, dedicated, educated, and well-informed families have the ability to make a huge impact…Gone are the days when we could just say, ‘We’re a cloistered community of researchers, and we alone know how to do this.’ ”

Research direction: John Crowley funded individual scientists to fill the treatment void when he learned his daughter had Pompe disease. Ultimately John ended up partnering with one scientist to form a company that eventually was folded into Genzyme. And while his story is certainly one of the most dramatic (to the point of being the subject of a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford), John’s ability to drive the course of scientific discovery is becoming more commonplace in the rare disease space.

Product approval parameters: In June 2014, the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD) patient group, submitted the first ever-patient advocacy-initiated draft guidance for a rare disease to the FDA for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Patients, through organizations like the PPMD, are now directly driving how Pharma should be conducting their research.
Because of the outsized role patients and their families play in bringing a drug to market, building strong patient relationships is a key marketing investment for orphan drug marketers. For example, Biogen Idec, deployed over 15 community managers to support people with living with hemophilia even before they had an approved product.
There are already signs of an “orphan drug spillover effect” on primary care marketing. Consider Sanofi’s community manager position in their Diabetes franchise. Or more recently, that Sanofi appointed a Chief Patient Officer. And this I believe, is just the start of the orphan drug effect.

Soon the patient centric tactics of Rare Disease marketers will be highlighted in “marketing excellence” meetings all over Pharma. Then questions will come during marketing plan presentations about “why can’t primary care teams start building patient relationships like their rare disease counter parts?” And before you know it, the small seeds of patient centricity will finally blossom throughout Pharma.

Patient Shopping in Our Lifetime?

This was the one of the final questions asked at a recent Elsevier conference where I was a speaker. The panel charged with answering this question was largely pessimistic. Panelists felt that the byzantine system of setting prices for both medical procedures and pharmaceuticals made it unlikely that consumers would ever get the cost data required for effective shopping behavior. They couldn’t imagine that anyone in the industry would step up to the challenge of making prices more transparent.

There is certainly reason for their negative outlook. For example, a recent study by Verilogue and Duke Medical Center found that when oncologists discussed  breast cancer treatment options with patients, costs were only discussed in 20% of the cases. If patients can’t get information on the costs and outcomes of various medical and drug treatments, then they can’t make the appropriate trade-offs.

In my opinion, the Elsevier panel was right and wrong.

Right because strides towards increased pricing transparency won’t come from within the industry. But wrong because change will be instigated from outside the industry—by government, non-profit organizations and entrepreneurs unencumbered by the war wounds of fighting vested health care interests.

Here are a couple of examples that provide me with hope:

  • On the non-profit side, there is the Minnesota Community Measure Up coalition. They created the Minnesota D5 program, which provides effectiveness scores for treating diabetes by individual clinics/HCP offices.
  • Newer health care services like Counsyl, a genetic testing company, have actually built cost transparency into their business model. Counsyl has developed a proprietary tool that allows patients to calculate their exact costs once their particular insurance policy is factored in before they sign up for the service.
  • Iodine, a newcomer in the cost and rating business for drugs, has developed a very easy interface to help consumers start evaluating the cost/quality trade-offs for different medications.

Information will drive true shopper behavior.  Contrary to popular belief, patients can make educated choices. Patients don’t reflexively opt for latest and the greatest medical solution. As reported in the New York Times, a recent study in the Annals of Surgery, found that parents actually made the cost effective choice regarding appendectomies for their children.

When parents were told that both conventional and laparoscopic surgery yielded the same results, but that conventional surgery was far less expensive, two-thirds of parents chose the less expensive conventional surgery. 31% said that the information they received was the primary driver in their decision and 90% liked having a choice.

Pharma companies are going to have to learn how to market to health care shoppers rather than patients. This means that not only will pharmaceutical companies have to include cost in their outcomes studies with payers, they will also have to convince health care shoppers that their drugs represent a good value for the money.

And much like restaurants and hotels, Pharma companies will have to regularly monitor the various patient quality and cost rating systems to make sure their medications are fairly portrayed. A bad rating will have a direct impact on revenues, as consumers fail to start or stop using a medication, based on a rating they saw.

Pharma companies will need to include these products ratings from patient sites in their analyses of sales results. I predict that these analyses will show a direct correlation between consumer ratings and revenue. And when that happens, it will be the dawn of the era of the true health care shopper!

Follow the Money to Patient Engagement

4 Reasons why Pharma will finally become patient-centric

Pharma Financial Stars Lie with Patient-Centricity

Pharmaceutical marketers have been talking about Empowered Patients ever since I joined Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in the mid-90’s as one of their first consumer marketing hires. But despite all the talk, most pharmaceutical companies are nowhere near being patient-focused.

Pharma marketers know things are changing but are holding onto the HCP-focused status quo for as long as possible. In fact, I was recently asked by a Pharma Exec charged with driving patient engagement, “When do we really have to get serious about patients?” They felt that their primary customer was still the physician.

But ever the optimist, I believe that the next 2-5 years will represent a seismic shift in pharmaceutical marketing. Away from a singular focus on the physician towards a more patient-centric way of being. And that’s because patient-centricity is increasingly critical to a pharmaceutical company’s growth and financial health. As Watergate’s Deep Throat said, “Follow the Money.”

To my mind, there are four market trends that are helping to realign Pharma’s financial stars towards patient-centricity:

1. The Dawn of Health Care Shoppers-Historically, consumers exhibited very little true shopping behavior, even as they became increasingly responsible for their health care costs. This lack of true shopping behavior was largely because consumers had little visibility into costs and quality data and therefore couldn’t make the necessary trade-offs.

But that is changing.

Health care reform, combined with private sector efforts, are increasing transparency around both costs and quality, allowing consumers to start making trade-offs with their health care expenditures, including medications. Patients will move from merely asking a physician for a particular drug they saw advertised on television to making a highly considered decision to pay for drug A or drug B.

With this true decision-making, patients will be able to move markets. As this market moving ability starts to show up in pharma company regression analyses, Pharma companies will be stumbling over each other to be the most patient-centric.

2. The shifting economics of their customers-HCPs, Hospitals and Integrated Delivery Systems won’t be rewarded on the quantity of services they deliver anymore, but rather on the quality of those services and the patient experience. The smart pharmaceutical companies are going to look for ways to help their customers deliver better patient outcomes and experiences. And that is going to require additional investment to prove their patient interventions actually deliver.

3. The exploding orphan drug opportunity-Specialty and orphan drugs now represent the path to financial growth for many Pharma companies. And along with the orphan drug opportunity comes the empowered patient. These patients play a significant role in which drugs get into clinical trials, get approved by the FDA and reimbursed by insurers. If a company is in the Orphan Drug space, then by default they have to be patient centric. I predict that this “patient centricity” will eventually work its way into larger, primary care marketing practices.

4. Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs) in clinical trials will increasingly become commercial differentiators-In many categories, pharmaceutical researchers have already captured patient-reported outcomes, particularly on quality of life. However, these metrics have had little true commercial value since the FDA has been leery of approving claims based on patient reported outcomes. I believe that the FDA’s new focus on patient centricity, as witnessed by their “Patient Focused Drug Development” initiative may signal a growing acceptance of PRO claims. And as PROs become more important to the commercial success of a medication, so will the patients.

It is this alignment of Pharma’s financial stars around patient-centricity, that makes me believe that pharmaceutical companies will finally begin to truly embrace the empowered patient. Just follow the money. It never lies.

How design thinking can elevate the patient experience

Finding purpose in the mundane

What could be more boring than the traditional patient pamphlet?

Many times patient pamphlets are created without the most important ingredient, the patient. The traditional pamphlet is generally a collection of information that the health care marketer wants to impart to the patient. Little thought is put into what the patient wants to know. And even less thought is put into how the patient wants to physically interact with the pamphlet.

A little design thinking could change all that. One of the key principles of design thinking is purpose. Every element should have a customer-focused reason for existing. This requires a deeply rooted understanding of customers and how they interact with a particular object. It is this understanding that can transform the mundane into the marvelous.

One of the best examples I have ever seen is the in-room collateral for the Wanderlust Hotel in Singapore that I stumbled upon at an American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) exhibit. The design team from Foreign Policy Design had a profound understanding of the prototypical Wanderlust guest. The type of guest who checks into the Wanderlust hotel is “curious and interested in discovering, engaging and immersing in new experiences.” They have a desire for personal growth through exploration.

Based on this understanding, the designers reinvented the “almost-useless conventional in-room directory” into a more useful travel tool. The in-room directory was morphed into an itinerary, full of useful local information including “area maps, train and bus maps, local shops and restaurants as well as thoughtful blank pages for notes and sketches.”

The reimagined in-room directory led to a redesigned check-in procedure. As the AIGA exhibit notes detailed, the itinerary “improved the check-in workflow, converting a laborious and dreaded check-in process into something fun, a talking point.”

This proves that one small design element can trigger a cascade of changes that lead to an improved overall brand experience. And the business results? The hotel has been featured in core travel publications including Travel & Leisure, has appeared on almost 500 blogs, and its room occupancy rates have risen.

And no wonder, “Creating a unique customer experience is one of the best ways to achieve sustainable growth, particularly in industries that are stagnating,” according to the consulting firm ATKearny. In industry after industry, higher customer satisfaction has been shown to drive sales and profits.

So back to the patient pamphlet. What is its core purpose? What is the problem that the pamphlet (or for that matter, the website, app or DTC ad) is trying to solve? What other problems does the patient have? Is there a role it can play there? How should it be redesigned?

What happens if the patient pamphlet is reimagined as an itinerary for better health, rather than merely a way to convey basic product information? Could infusing a higher-order purpose into a pamphlet set off a cascade of changes in all marketing activities?