Patient data is king and pharma companies should ignore it at their peril

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Words of prophets on surgery walls

Patient data is king and pharma companies should ignore it at their peril.


Last month I suggested that primary care delivery needs to radically change or face the consequences, so it was interesting to get an email from a colleague last week about a 22,000-patient practice in Plymouth, where the partners had given up the contract.

The core business of pharma lies in primary care practices. I sense fewer field-based people now have a relationship with a practice where they can sit down and say ‘How’s it going?’ That kind of informal chat, whether with a GP, practice manager, pharmacist or practice nurse, leads directly to understanding business drivers at the point of prescription.

There is no substitute for getting close and understanding what happens when patients and HCPs meet. That understanding can also be supported by some excellent sources with the potential to be developed into highly-valuable business analysis.

Personnel on the ground need access to local NHS information, while using it to their advantage without getting lost in a sea of data. Field-based teams are often swamped by stuff on their screen, which they feel obliged to somehow use, but can’t see the relevance of it.

The NHS recently published the annual GP Patient Survey. This is a great resource for anyone in pharma, from strategic development to the representative on the ground. I do wonder how much it features in current discussions within companies though.

Some praise is due to NHS England for developing this over the years and funding such a massive piece of user feedback. What we have is a goldmine of information going back years, and with sound methodology. The range and depth of questions means that all kinds of revelatory trends are available by practice, CCG and across the national scope.

You can read it anecdotally, so that it tells a story with a distinct narrative and you can use the data as spreadsheets for statistical analysis. If you doubt the method then just look at one familiar practice and I bet you’ll see a true reflection of that organisation.

The overall results and the practice-specific data show a system that is changing fast, but not as fast as its users are changing, and certainly not as fast as its users would like it to change. Just one of the fascinations for me is to see how patients have driven online communication with GP practices and, especially, seeing how that mixes through demographics.

This should be mandatory reading in the field and in the board room.   


Our survey says

The GP patient survey is an independent survey run by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS England. Data is collected across three months, involves 23 different ratings and published on an annual basis. The categories include ‘ability to get appointment’, ‘confidence in GP’ and ‘satisfaction with nurses’. 


  • 84.8% rate their overall experience of their GP surgery as good
  • 77.4% say they would definitely or probably recommend their GP
  • 1 in 5 patients say when they tried to see a GP the surgery was closed
  • 53.5% of all patients have one or more long-standing health conditions


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David Thorne is Chair, Washington Community Healthcare and Non-Executive Director, City and Vale GP Alliance. Go to