Why the pharmaceutical industry should invest in Target Patient Experiences to succeed

Elly Aylwin-Foster

2 minute read

At Friday our purpose is to design beautifully useful digital services, built with the user in mind. We work with health providers, insurers and patients and understand the complexity of designing solutions that are fit for purpose. Increasingly, we also find ourselves working with Pharma companies, as their need to create patient-driven digital experiences grows.

Until recently, the relationship between patient and drug manufacturer was distant and in-direct, with no real requirement for patient engagement. Yet the pharma industry recognises it faces unprecedented change. The competitive landscape has changed; patients have more treatment alternatives and access to an unparalleled information source, combined with pricing pressure from squeezed health providers and insurers.

Recognising these changes has led Pharma firms to make a concerted effort to improve patient adherence. Unfortunately, much of this effort has resulted in surface-level tools and apps that have been marketing programmes before anything else.

The pressures pushing Pharma to re-address the patient relationship

  • Pay for performance and value-based pricing models

Health providers and insurers want new therapies that are clinically and economically better than the existing alternatives, together with hard, real-world outcomes data to back any claims about a medicine’s superiority. Value-based deals based on primary health outcomes, such as reductions in blood glucose for diabetics, or reductions in hospital admissions, are emerging at an increasing rate.

Abbvie, Novartis, Merck & Co have all recently signed these types of deals with insurers such as Cigna, Aetna and Express Scripts. That means an adherent patient matters more to companies than ever before; it is a commercial imperative.

  • When beyond the pill means no pill at all

The idea that a pill may not be a cure-all for a condition is not new. The creation of lifestyle-change programmes driven by technology, that treat a disease without any pills at all, is new. The advent of products like Meru Health and Our Path - treating diseases like type 2 diabetes and hypertension – has superseded the traditional pill-based treatment model.

If pharma companies are to thrive, not just survive, they must create services that go beyond drugs as part of their product offering. Consequently, patient experience is becoming a competitive tool by which to differentiate.

Target Patient Experience

A target patient experience is created by first listening to the needs of a patient, designing a service around those needs and connecting them with the requirements of the business. From a service design point of view that provides interesting territories to explore.

A pill is only the start of adherence

Adherence may be most important aspect of the patient experience for pharmaceutical companies. But to design an experience that truly matters to patients, the term ‘adherence’ comes to mean much more than simply taking your pills. An individual who does everything they can to manage their condition as successfully as possible is holistically adherent; and that covers exercise and physical therapy, getting enough sleep and taking care of mental health to ensure a motivated and receptive patient.

And it’s not just what adherence encompasses, but the time, expense and effort that it requires. Let’s say a patient with Cystic Fibrosis takes 30 tablets, 2 different inhalers, 2 types of insulin and 2 nebulised drugs daily; that is a huge commitment to administer and administrate that medication. That commitment should be considered in the design process, with empathetic and intuitively built services.

The expert patient

The pros and cons of the increasingly informed patient have been debated at length. But in many cases, a high level of patient knowledge and scrutiny is the reality. And when it comes to product and service design, it should be acknowledged. For example, the knowledge and motivation of an individual with a chronic condition like asthma or arthritis is likely to be very different to a patient taking medication for an acute need. They probably know more, and treating them as informed and trustworthy can do wonders to develop a patient’s sense of responsibility towards their treatment. Plus, it’s just good manners.

Trust and data

In the quest to create solutions for patients, pharma companies will naturally assume more ownership of patient data. But is this a welcome move for patients? The honest answer, is not always. Both health providers and patients have justifiable concerns with the manufacturers of medication knowing more about why, when, and how medication is taken.

The assumption from patients may be that their data will not always be used to help them, but when done right, such a service should in fact lead to patients having more insight and access to their own data. Data ownership is not an assumed right; it’s earned through a trustful and respectful relationship between provider and receiver.

It is pharma who must take the lead in developing this relationship. They can do so by investing in patient-driven service design.

Elly Aylwin-Foster


Friday is now part of PA Consulting