This patient-first business model helps establish pharma companies as valued partners of consumers and, by inference, of society at large. In turn, pharma companies that succeed in patient engagement efforts increase their chances of regulatory and commercial success as decisions about approval, prescribing, and marketing of drugs are more closely tied to patient results and needs.
To productively collaborate with patients, pharma companies need to find better ways of communicating with them. They also need a more effective data analytics practice: a way to gather and analyze data about patients’ day-to-day compliance with treatment protocols and the efficacy of the treatments. Although many patients are sensitive about sharing personal information, a recent survey by PwC’s Health Research Institute found that most people are willing to let pharma companies and regulators know about their medical activities if it will lead to better care.
Due to advances in digital and medical technology, pharma companies and healthcare providers can access patient data seamlessly, in real time, and with little inconvenience for patients. An array of tools can be combined with online portals and mobile apps to foster better, more immediate communication. These include newly approved equipment such as miniature implants, vital signs tracking devices, remote monitoring biosensors, and noninvasive diagnostics. Some pharma manufacturers are also developing smartphone apps to stay in touch with patients, survey them daily about their pain levels and other symptoms, and remind them of their prescribed medication schedules. In some cases, the pharma company continually examines the survey results and connects patients with healthcare providers when necessary. These apps can also be used to track the progression of a disease or recovery and help healthcare companies better understand patient needs.
Since treatment compliance is primarily influenced by individual habits and attitudes, pharma companies should also explore the behavioral sciences for insights about encouraging better patient decision making. They can use better incentives and various forms of social influence to improve health. Ongoing studies have shown, for example, that offering daily financial incentives can positively affect the behavior of patients with chronic conditions. In one program, obese patients who were given the chance to win a daily lottery prize of about $3 by participating in a weight-reduction program lost a pound a week over a period of four months. And they maintained that weight level better than control groups. In another study, a daily lottery increased drug compliance among patients who were identified as unlikely to follow treatment protocols for the blood thinner warfarin, which reduces the risk of a stroke.
Another component affecting behavior is patients’ “activation level” — their health-related knowledge, skills, and ability, and their willingness to manage their own health. Companies can increase the level of patient compliance and self-care by tracking where patients are along the activation continuum and creating relevant and aligned messaging to meet each individual patient’s needs. As their relationships with patients expand, pharma companies can prompt providers, pharmacies, and professional caregivers hired by them to intervene with patients in order to help guide their healthcare activities.