Session: The empowered patient: Building a partnership of trust
Presenter: Jim Robinson, President & COO, Alkermes
Watch our exclusive interview with Jim at eyeforpharma Philadelphia 2018.
Alkermes took a bold step to figure out how the biopharmaceutical company rates in terms of its patientricity and ability to deliver real value. That step, according to Jim Robinson, Alkermes President & COO, was to hire a consultant – someone outside of the pharma sphere.
That someone was James Merlino M.D., a Cleveland Clinic physician who authored Service Fanatics: How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way.
“We were the first pharma company Dr. Merlino agreed to work with,” Robinson said. While the book was meant to examine the patient/physician relationship, Robinson and his team felt the doctor’s perspective would translate to how pharma companies could better connect with patients.
“Dr. Merlino evaluated us through a patient’s lens. While we felt we were on the leading edge of patientricity, the doctor’s data said we weren’t – which was stunning,” Robinson recalled. “Dr. Merlino went through example after example about how we were disconnected from the patient.”
To deliver his “diagnosis,” Merlino first looked inside Alkermes’ four walls, examined how the company historically connected with patients, and assessed if those efforts needed modernizing, were no longer working or in some cases, never worked at all. “If you want to successfully change your company’s approach to patientricity, you have to look inside first,” Robinson said.
Defining the Disconnect with Patients
Turning the company inside out showed the Alkermes team where there was room for improvement. First, the company needed a more realistic understanding of the patient’s journey, from diagnosis to treatment to hopefully resolution of the condition if possible, Next, Alkermes, like many pharma companies, needed to be less brandcentric and more patient-centric.
If a pharma company wants to partner with patients in their quest to “stay alive,” patients need to be treated with dignity, respect and most of all, authenticity.”
As Robinson explained, “When you think about the world of drug development, pain hasn’t necessarily been experienced across the organization equally.” The issue, Robinson added, was largely due to the fact that patient-centricity is often considered marketing’s domain, with clinical and medical divisions less involved.
“Before our evaluation, how many phone numbers do you think we had for a patient to get answers? Over 50!” Robinson noted. That, he added, was a brandcentric over patient-centric approach.
In addition, Alkermes’ educational materials were too brandcentric. “If we could find a way to put our brand in an educational piece, we did it. How would you feel if you were handed branded educational patient material? That would never happen in a hospital or provider setting,” Robinson said.
More insight followed Alkermes’ patient advocacy summit, where conversation focused solely on the patient’s journey and life experiences.
“My aha moment came when I asked patients to share what was important to them in terms of their truth paradigm,” Robinson recalled. “After a conversation that went on for about 30 minutes, it was clear that the number one thing patients were trying to accomplish was to ‘stay alive.’ All of a sudden we went from our paradigm of a journey to theirs, which was staying alive.”
The patient summit uncovered more. If a pharma company wants to partner with patients in their quest to “stay alive,” patients need to be treated with dignity, respect and most of all, authenticity.
Ramping Up Patientricity
With human insights and data collected, it was time to tweak Alkermes’ culture. “To deliver patient value, we had to have research and development, medical, and commercial all pushing together on the patient’s behalf,” Robinson said. This meant that everything a patient touched had to make sense to the patient – even if it meant focusing less on branding.
After taking action, Robinson feels that Alkermes is now in a place to engage authentically and deliver what they say they’ll deliver. “Do this and you’ll a mutual partnership that benefits the patient and the pharma company,” Robinson said.