Creating patient centric ways of working

People sitting around a desk with laptops and tablets to show Pharma drug approvals round-up: UK, Europe, US

How can industry move from words to action to create truly patient centric ways of working?

For over a decade, biopharma has been talking about the central role of patients as their raison d’etre. While most agree much progress has been made on this aspirationwhat has been missing is an objective set of measurements to gauge pharma’s patient-centric efforts. If we are to move from words to actions, we need to understand in a more nuanced way how we’re doing. 

The Aurora Project Patient-Centric Benchmarks Survey*, conducted in partnership with Ipsos Healthcare and eyeforpharma, was created to shed light on biopharma’s patient centricity efforts.  

69% of biopharma associates are trying to figure out how they should train people to be patient centric!

As you will see below, in the Top 6 lessons of The Aurora Project Patient-Centric Benchmark Survey, significant strides have been made. You’ll also see that there is room to improve.  

Top six lessons 

  1. ‘Importance’and ‘Confidence’ are on the rise: 

We asked how important it was that biopharma, biotech and medical device companies deliver on their patient-focused missions as a way to understand how ready respondents were to deliver on the promise of patient centricity. Nine out of 10 (91%) of respondents ranked that at 8/10 or more—a 6% absolute increase from last year’s survey. We also asked how confident they were that we could deliver on those mission/visions. Although only three in 10 (30%) ranked their confidence as 8/10 or more, that was up significantly up from last year’s survey when only two in 10 (21%) were as confident. 

Why this is important: The key insight from the 2018 survey isonce again, the significant gap between how important patient centricity is for respondents versus how confident they are that they can deliver on their patient-centric visions. Assessing importance/confidence can help determine readiness to change. In order to make meaningful change related to a given behavior, people need to feel like the behavior is worth changing (importance) and that they believe they can change it (confidence). 

  1. How biopharma sees itself v. how patients see biopharma:  

 In the 2018 Aurora Project Survey, we asked biopharma associates and patients the degree to which pharma is patient centered, using these 10 principles. Across those 10 metrics, patients consistently ranked biopharma companies lower than biopharma associates ranked themselves. On average, six in 10 (57.5%) biopharma associates ranked their own companies at 4 or above on a 5-point scale where 5 was ‘Strongly agree that they achieved each of the 10 standards. By comparison, only four in 10 (42%) patients ranked biopharma companies at 4 or above on a 5-point scale where 5 was ‘Strongly agree that they achieved each of the 10 standards. 

Why this is important: Cognitive biases like the ones observed above are commonplace. People often rank themselves more positively than an objective observer would. Despite the pervasiveness of these cognitive biases, highlighting them in the detailed way we did for the first time in this year’s survey is instructive. Once we are aware of how we’re actually doing at serving patients’ needs through their eyes, we’ll understand more specifically what we need to do to close the gap. 

  1. Patient centricity drives engagement and pride:

 Over three-quarters (76%) of biopharma associates are confident that their company is making the world a better place. 81% of biopharma associates are proud to tell people outside the biopharma industry that they work in pharma, in a biotech/medical device company. Almost seven out of 10 (69%) of biopharma associates agree that My customers would say that I help improve patient care’. 

Why this is important: Historically, biopharma has engaged in patient centric activities primarily as a means of delivering on its commitment to improve patient outcomes. However, the real win for all may be in its power to engage people within our organisations. There is significant research that demonstrates that employee engagement has tangible value to organisations and to the employees themselves.  

  1. Patient centricity drives trust in bio pharma: 

In the survey, only 36% of patients say they have quite a bit or a lot of trust in biopharma. To explore biopharma respondents’ self-perceptions of trust, we asked what would happen to trust if a patient could secretly observe their company’s day to day activities. 67% of biopharma respondents agree that patients’ trust would be positively affected if patients secretly observed a typical day in a pharmaceutical company. 

 Why this is important: According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB) trust in all institutions (governments, corporations, the media and NGOs) is at an all-time low.  

Findings in the survey highlight a growing disconnect between how we feel about our own trustworthiness versus how patients perceive us. In essence, if you don’t think you have a problem, you’re less likely to allocate your energy or corporate resources to make it better.  

  1. Both patients and biopharma associates believe that patientcentric approaches within biopharma will drive business success:  

73% of patients agree that focussing on patient need leads to better business outcomes. 85%) of biopharma associates agree focussing on patient need leads to better business outcomes. 90% of all survey respondents agree that long-term focus is key to success with patient centric efforts. This need is sometimes at odds with business realities, with more than half (53%) of biopharma associates saying that their companies are mostly concerned about results this year. 

Why this is important: The idea that companies can’t meet both their financial needs and the needs of society is rapidly fading. The research on purpose-driven people and organisations provides an abundance of evidence that illustrates that being driven by purpose is key to exceptional performance. “Much like technology a few decades ago, purpose has now become a business imperative,” says Aaron Hurst in The Purpose Economy 

  1. Training is the missing ingredient to patientcentric execution:

 53% of biopharmaceutical associates said: We are actively looking for what and how to teach patient centricity to our people’. Only 22% said: We know exactly what and how to teach patient centricity to our people’. Another 16% say: We don’t know what or how to teach patient centricity to our people’. When you combine the ‘Actively looking for what and how to teach group with the ‘We don’t know what or how to teach group, we see that 69% of biopharma associates are trying to figure out how they should train people to be patient centric!  

Why this is important: When the finding that only three in 10 (30%) ranked their confidence as 8/10 or more is juxtaposed with the finding that 69% of people don’t know what or how to teach patient centricityone of the key insights from the survey emerges. The low confidence is, in large part, a function of not knowing how to be patient focused.  

The how of patient centricity is deceptive. It’s easy to feel yourpatient focusedbut more complicated to connect employees professional purpose with our companies’ patient-centric missions. Developing the processes and organisational culture that make patient centricity a core business practice remains a key challenge for our industry. 

A way to go 

While many in pharma feel we’ve already ‘checked the box’ on patient centricity, this year’s survey shows us that we’re only at the beginning of the journey of moving beyond words.  

Patients can’t wait for us to authentically put them at the centre of our value creation models. They need us to continue innovating – not just with our medicines but with our patient-focused business processes and people.  

 *Survey Details: The 2nd Annual Aurora Project Patient-focused Benchmarks Survey was designed collaboratively by a working group of Aurora Project members and IPSOS Healthcare and executed by IPSOS Healthcare from July to October 2017. The survey was conducted in English with biopharmaceutical and medtech employees, associated supplier companies, patients and patient groups. There were 1280 participants in the 2017 survey from biopharma companies, medtech companies, solution providers and patients. The survey respondents were not randomised and as such selection bias may be present in the data. Survey results are accurate to +/- 2% 19 times out of 20. 


John Elliott is Project Lead of The Aurora Project: Patient-Centric Benchmarks Survey and Managing Director at Excellerate. Got to