What is patient-centric healthcare? … it’s about real people … empathetic, integrated, personal and wellness

September 20, 2017

Through positive wellness and personalised pharma, robotics and genetics, digital applications and patient-centric business models … the future of health is about specialisation and innovation, patient-centric solutions that are faster and more efficient. The fast-changing science is one factor, however far more significant is the convergence of pharma and biotech, insurance and hospitals, physicians and pharmacists … working together to make life better.

Personal, predictive and positive

For just $99 we can see our life before us, with a DNA profile from 23 and Me, and as a result we go to PatientsLikeMe to find out how others have responded. We eat the best foods from GSK, and check our daily fitness with Nike+, maybe with a little help from Avumio’s diagnostic apps and online advice from Dr Koop.

If we need help, we turn to ZocDoc where a local nurse with Epocrates at his fingertips, who prescribes a standard drug from Wuxi, or a custom prescription from Genentech. A night in W Hotel’s clinic, or a surgical trip to Antalya is unlikely. Instead we spray on our L’Oreal skin protection, sip on our super-vitamin Zespri kiwi juice, and smile.

The future of healthcare is personalpredictive and proactive, using advanced diagnostics so that people can themselves understand their likely conditions, and take better actions now to reduce risks or avoid illnesses. In this sense it is about positive wellbeing, rather than caring or curing. However when misfortune does strike, then care is about patients and personalisation, putting people at the heart of the medical process, supported by physicians and pharmaceuticals which are right for individuals.

Today we live in hope that we will stay healthy. Improved diets and active lifestyles intuitively reduce our concerns, but when something does go wrong we put our faith in a system that is largely designed around medical science and operational efficiencies. We wait in line for a hospital bed, for a standard procedure, for a generic drug. And once we get the all clear, we disappear until the next problem. When was the last time when you talked to a doctor whilst feeling good, and staying fit?

The future is different. It sees a convergence of sectors, enabled by an integration of technologies, the personalisation of science, and business models that are more human and commercial.

We recognise that prevention is better, and cheaper, than cure: cholesterol-reducing margarines, UV protection built into cosmetics, anti-statins to every over 50 in order to reduce the risk of heart disease, regular scans for people with family histories, blood pressure monitored daily by your smart watch, fitness parks designed for middle aged retirees, compression socks for long-haul flights. Drug companies make functional foods, sports companies create wellbeing devices, hospitals offer fitness programs, medical centres offer beauty treatments, cosmetics brands help you look good and live better.

From biotechnology to pharmaceuticals, governments to surgeons, sports clinics to supermarket pharmacies, cosmetics to functional foods, mobile technologies and online communities, many different partners and services will come together to keep us alive and well.

Digital and mobile, catalysts of change

Big data for fast and remote diagnostics, wearable sensors for body management, sit alongside more innovative solutions like 3D organ printing and robotic surgery. Advances in technology are allowing for the provision of affordable, decentralised healthcare for the masses and are lowering the barriers to entry in less developed markets.

Of all the advances, mobile technology is the catalyst for change. The phone and tablet enable distribution of a broad range of medical and support services in hospitals, and particularly in countries with little or no healthcare infrastructure and areas in which there are few trained healthcare professionals. These technologies also allow trained professionals to perform quality control remotely.

Amongst the many significant developments is a shift towards one-on-one, in-field diagnostics and monitoring. Services that were once only available at a doctor’s office or hospital are now available on-demand through low-tech, affordable solutions. Personal systems allow for “good enough” diagnostics that would have been difficult, expensive, and timely to attain previously.

Building patient-centric brands

“Patient-centric” healthcare is nothing new.

Whilst every healthcare company – from drug manufacturer to health insurer, pharmacy to hospital, GP to dentist -it is dramatically different from most of what happens today. Whether “science for a better life” (Bayer), creating a healthier world (Pfizer); “do more, feel better, live longer” (GSK); “inspired by patients, driven by science” (UCB);  “science and patients … the heart of everything we do” (AstraZeneca); or being “a global integrated healthcare leader focused on patients’ needs” (Sanofi), the industry has enthusiastically grasped the idea of patient-centricity. At least at a corporate level.

Of course, its how they behave, not just what they say that matters. And also how the purpose of corporate brands translates into “product” brands, which tend to become preoccupied by their product functionality.  Medicine and science kick in, and they become product-centric and largely inhuman. Brands are more than products.

But an orientation around patients is a good starting point, to thinking and behaving in a more human, relevant and outcomes-driven way.

“Human-centric” is perhaps a better term anyway, as the purpose is really to stay healthy, and thereby avoid ever becoming a patient, and save huge amounts of money in the process.

In simple terms, patient-centricity means placing the patient at the centre of business activity and to consider how decisions about business will affect the patient. This seems far-fetched but there are in fact many aspects of a pharma company’s operation that can be re-imagined to be more aligned with the interest of the patient. They include:

  • Drug Discovery
  • Formulation
  • Drug Delivery Device Development
  • Clinical Trial Design
  • Marketing
  • Communications
  • Sales
  • Supply-Chain Management.

What is most significant is in how patient-centric thinking truly permeates leadership and decision making, and in particular

  • Leadership that drives the culture in every one of its words and actions
  • Business innovation that embraces it in business models and strategic development
  • Strategic planning that reformats future plans around patients not sales first
  • Payment models built around outcomes not traditional reimbursements
  • Performance incentives likewise built around patients

Fortunately for patients in need of better therapies and experiences, the vast majority of pharma companies have started a journey towards more patient-centricity. While no hard metrics exist that can track success of such initiatives, annual patient-centricity ranking and awards published by industry organizations nevertheless attempt to provide a degree of feedback to the industry.

In a 2013 survey on patient-centricity by research firm Patient-View, for example, ViiV Healthcare (the GSK & Pfizer joint venture focussed on HIV therapies), Gilead, AbbVie, Menarini and Janssen occupied the top 5 spots. Fast forward to 2016 and a review of the eyeforpharma Barcelona Awards 2016 shows not a single one of these companies won in the “Most Valuable Patient Initiative or Service” category, arguably the award most focussed on patient-centricity. Instead, Sanofi took the top spot, and Merck, Roche, Novartis and TEVA were the remaining nominees. UCB, with its renewed focus on the patient, did particularly well that year with 3 nominations and 1 award across categories.

It is noteworthy that even generic pharma companies are focusing more on the patient. The behemoth of the category, TEVA, has a number of initiatives in this space, and the CEO of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, India’s largest maker of generic pharmaceuticals, recently shared in an interview that all innovation at his company has to be patient focussed.

Patient-centricity in pharma is not a fad – it is decidedly here to stay. The reason for this is very simple: Being patient-centric is good for the bottom line. In a 2015 survey by Pharma Marketing News, an impressive 86% of pharma executives either agreed or strongly agreed that “a focus on patient-centricity is the best route to future profitability”.

It is about starting with real people, their needs and hopes and fears. It is about looking beyond disease, beyond product, beyond treatment. It is human-centric, and integrated in its response. It is about knowing people as individuals, through data or simply listening, to responding in more personal and relevant ways, and focusing on the right outcome for them.

In my keynotes, workshops and consulting process I help many companies to rethink what matters, to gain new insight, and shape new strategies, by truly thinking in a different way.


Here are some inspirations:

UCB … “Patients are at the heart of what we do … It is really about seeing the person as a whole, including emotional well-being, when trying to find solutions that improve their quality of life.”

Novo Nordisk  … Through the Changing Diabetes® program the pharma company works to address the needs of people living with diabetes.

Atos Medical … global leaders in laryngectomy products and care, the Swedish business has transformed itself to engage directly with consumers

Leo Pharma … Gitte Aabo, CEO of LEO Pharma discusses what she sees are the biggest barriers to patient centricity

AstraZeneca … Guy Yeoman, VP of Patient Centricity, explores the definition of patient centricity in the context of medicine development from the viewpoint of pharmaceutical companies. “There are 3 principles: openness, respect and compassion, improving patient experience and outcome.”

Takeda … Marc Princen, President, Europe and Canada share’s why being patient centric is the core business goal for Takeda … “Everything we do starts with the patient … products, diagnostics, treatment, care, services, the whole ecosystem.”

Almirall … Eduardo Sanchiz. CEO talks about why the industry needs to come together to drive change and patient value.


Developing a patient-led brand strategy, white paper by Couch

2017 the year of patient-centric creativity, 6 steps to get started, article by ZineOne

Humanising the patient-centric brand experience with social media, ebook by Aspire

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