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Patient-centric care and data: the big picture


4 October 2012


In this article, PA discusses how patient-centric healthcare can only work if pharma companies really understand who the customer is. The article also looks at how it requires innovative approaches to collecting and working with data, complemented by new ways of thinking about patients.

New healthcare models are emerging in response to pressures to contain costs while safeguarding quality. Typically, they feature multiple stakeholders, are based on outcomes and aim to deliver patient-centric care. Already, stakeholders such as payers and providers are forming new partnerships, and are piloting or have already established, new care strategies along these lines.

The pharma industry is well aware of the shifting healthcare landscape, and has been actively adapting its own business model. This adaptation is urgently needed, not just because the industry has a central role to play in improving care, but also because the commercial future lies in this direction. With fewer blockbuster drugs in the pipeline, pharma companies will find increasing proportions of their revenue coming from patient-centric solutions. These holistic (and often preventative) propositions will require collaboration with payers, providers, device manufacturers and others.

What should pharma be doing to ensure these new approaches succeed?

Get to know the patient

Above all, pharma companies need to know the patient better, for two main reasons. First, they need to predict reimbursable value both accurately and early (often before Phase 2a1). That requires a thorough understanding of stakeholder needs and relationships ‒ and in a patient-centric world the patient is arguably the most important of those stakeholders. In a recent survey, a respondent from pharma commented:

“The pressure from payers and regulators is so high that we are increasingly reluctant to develop anything unless we can say what the reimbursable potential of our medicine will look like. We have to think hard and focus on the patient proposition.”

The second major reason for getting to know the patient is simply that the success of patient-centric approaches depends on it. Integrated services provider Geisinger recently reported that it had reduced congestive heart failure patient readmission rates by 44 per cent through automated voice follow-up in the two weeks post discharge. To design and target solutions like this, companies need intimate knowledge of the patient pathway and patients’ behaviour within their treatment plan (for example are they willing to take responsibility for their own healthcare?) and preferences (for example which technologies are they comfortable with?).

Proactively gather patient data

Access to patient-centric data is not readily available off the shelf. Respondents1 typically had multiple dataset subscriptions, yet did not feel they had achieved patient-centric decision-making. For that, pharma companies will need to exploit new data sources such as social and mobile platforms, gathering information continuously and proactively.

Pharma companies should seek legitimate ways to tap into the information that patients themselves generate on social networks such as Facebook, as they discuss their healthcare experiences and encourage each other to get well or prevent illness. Some pharma companies are also creating their own social platforms. For example, Novartis’s partnership with PatientsLikeMe, which builds online communities for patients, is helping it learn from and about people with multiple sclerosis (MS), and has allowed it to recruit participants for a clinical trial significantly faster than expected.

The industry is now well aware that mobile technologies, such as Smartphone apps, can allow patients to monitor their own blood pressure, cholesterol levels and so on (provider Kaiser Permanente is a leader here). What is now growing in appreciation by pharma is that the data generated by these activities can provide valuable insights into patients and their needs.

Process data in innovative ways

Getting to know the patient better means dealing with an ever-increasing range of data, not just from social and mobile platforms, but also from electronic health records, prescription databases, health plans and many other sources. It all adds up to vast volumes of data, in a variety of formats, both structured and unstructured – and needing to be processed rapidly enough to support day-to-day decision making. Unsurprisingly, these “big data” challenges preoccupy many senior decision-makers.

Fortunately, new technologies are arriving to help and pharma companies can tap into large-scale data mining and analytics. Relevant platforms include Hadoop, which facilitates parallel processing of large datasets, is proving its worth in areas like genetic analysis.

Innovative partnerships for data sharing will also be vital in tackling data challenges for pharma companies. Recently, for example, Pfizer announced a five-year research collaboration with health insurer Humana, to gain a better understanding of older patients with chronic diseases. To achieve this, they are developing a data pool spanning various “disease areas, population health sub-types, and intervention methods”.

Transform your view of the patient

Data alone is not enough to create patient-centric solutions, of course. Pharma needs to combine creative approaches to data with a cultural shift towards thinking about patients as empowered consumers.

Both words in this phrase are important. We need to empower patients to drive their own healthcare, with an emphasis on preventing rather than curing illness, and with support from the right information and technologies. Equally, we need to start thinking of patients as consumers, and borrow techniques and technologies for working with them from sectors like retail and financial services.
By adopting this new mind set, pharma companies will find it increasingly easier to decide how to capture, collate and analyse data. The company will also position itself strongly to identify and design market-leading products and services for a patient-centric world.


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