When I began my career in healthcare over 30 years ago, the business culture was in a stage of evolution that saw an explosion of large provider groups and pharmacy chains, while independent practitioners and pharmacies struggled to compete. Small pharmaceutical companies were primarily generic medication providers, and large pharmaceutical companies balanced their investments between higher risk innovative research and me-too treatment options that were lower risk and higher profit. In addition, these pharmaceutical giants invested enormous sums of money into marketing patent-protected brands, which led to an emerging awareness of the power of patient influence.
Healthcare in 2018 reflects this awareness. Research is broadly initiated by small entrepreneurial start-ups, while big pharma has shifted a portion of its focus toward search and development to acquire these smaller companies. Providers and payer groups yield enormous influence over treatment and care decisions, and patients are more motivated and informed about health, diseases, and treatments due to their increasing responsibility for cost burden.
Information has become the holy grail of business, as consumers demand that the healthcare industry respect their desires as the ultimate payers. Television is saturated with consumer ads that sing and dance to explain the new options available for patients across a wide range of disease states and treatments. The business has changed, and patients are in the center of the action. This evolution has forced pharmaceutical companies, both big and small, to take additional risk with investment in innovative breakthroughs with higher rates of failure. To better amortize this innovation, pharmaceutical companies are making a genuine effort to understand, educate, and motivate patient consumers to influence and be accountable for their own health.
Patient-centricity has become the buzzword in healthcare, as it permeates strategic business planning, clinical trials, brand marketing, advertising, publications, and even scientific conferences. Retail companies have been aware of consumer power for decades, with customized offerings, one-on-one attention, and emphasis on individualized customer service. Consumer awareness is no longer a nice-to-have strategy but a foundational approach to survive and thrive in today’s business.
Patient-centric clinical trials with higher retention rates have become the standard in many clinical areas because they create positive experiences that help volunteers feel like they are more than just data. The trials are designed to ensure that study volunteers are informed about both the drug and the disease it is intended to treat, with the goal of obtaining insight into how patients are affected physically emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Today, people are more informed than ever on diseases, treatments, and medicines due to internet and social media information access. This trend, coupled with patient-centric study designs and protocols, allows researchers to understand patients’ quality of life and to better develop tailored and efficient treatments. Consumers and advocacy groups are more aware of innovative pipeline treatments, which allows them to pressure companies to bring cutting-edge care to market sooner.
Pharmaceutical payers and providers are adapting to this reality, which will hopefully result in more innovative treatments, along with more informed practitioners and patients—but at what cost? Higher expectations are resulting in higher prices as the healthcare industry and the FDA wrestle with the balance of cost, timing, and risk. Patients and families are beginning to realize that this evolution will require them to budget and save for healthcare as they do for houses, cars, and college.
Research will continue to chase clinical breakthroughs that are driven by market potential as smaller entrepreneurial biotech and pharma companies become the backbone of early bench science. Big pharma will likely continue to invest in early research yet will also acquire and incubate compounds through patient trial, launch, and commercial phases.
Patients, caregivers, physicians, and employers will become more independent and establish their own healthcare systems to balance buying power with employee care, as evidenced by the recent health venture announcement from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase. The industry will continue to be inundated with information specific to health, illnesses, treatments, and the promise of better results. This information will stem from multiple sources, necessitating strategic approaches that clarify and organize.
While the concept of scientia potentia est (knowledge is power) was coined by Sir Francis Bacon over 400 years ago, it resonates today with sustained brilliance and has become the rally cry for the future. Patient-centric innovations are necessary for commercial success and must be mediated by logical and actionable communication that brings science to life to engage, impact, and empower the worldwide healthcare community.
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