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Transform patient experience with intelligent hyper-personalization​

Patient experience is the (old) new frontier for pharma

Since 2019, we have witnessed pharmaceutical companies making a mad dash to integrate digital channels and processes into their marketing efforts and patient outreach, in an attempt to be ready for the wave of digitization that was to hit the healthcare industry. As part of these efforts, customer experience (CX) became a key focus area to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.
Significant strides have been made by the industry when it comes to embedding forward-thinking practices into its strategic marketing goals with healthcare professionals (HCPs). The objective remained simple - to meet the benchmarks of CX set by HCPs interactions with companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon. Such experiences are impacted by each and every touchpoint with a brand.1 Optimizing these touchpoints matters. A survey involving 600 immunologists in Europe and the US found that HCPs who are fully satisfied with their journey of a particular drug are twice as likely to prescribe it.2
However, while pharma is rapidly embracing a digital transformation - both its own and responding to the needs of increasingly digital health services, these learnings are yet to be applied to patient experience. We have seen the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating a significant shift in patients' expectations for digitally supported healthcare. It is challenging pharma organizations to quickly adopt patient-centricity in an intelligent, hyper-personalized, and impactful way.
This requires the best of all worlds to transform more than just patient support programs; it needs a technology-powered transformation of strategy, design, execution, and intelligent optimization, underpinned by a concerted focus on data and analytics.
This white paper will examine some of the key ways in which pharma companies can transform Patient Experience by identifying, meeting, and exceeding expectations.

Patient expectations have evolved

There is a widespread acknowledgement that the pharma industry exists primarily for patients and to improve their health outcomes. However, the patient is often the least understood of pharma's stakeholders. To date, most pharma capabilities, processes, and investments are geared towards the HCP on the commercial side, resulting in the experience of the patient not being a focus.

So, perhaps it should not be a surprise that patients' experiences do not meet their expectations. Using their CXQ® framework which measures the performance of your key customer experiences against the competition, DT Consulting (an Indegene company) measured patients' interactions with pharma firms. They found the industry to be consistently poor, with pharma as a whole receiving an overall score of 30 out of 100 (compared to a score of 77 for its HCP interactions).3 Moreover, regardless of the therapy area involved - from cardiology to neurology, and all points between, pharma does not meet patients' expectations.

Figure 1:

CXQ® scores by therapy area

Base: 763 patients in Europe and the US who have interacted with pharmaceutical firms

Source: DT Consulting, The state of customer experience in pharma: patient interactions

But to continue in this way would be a major missed opportunity for the industry. Patient experience requires interactions at any touchpoint to be equal to, if not better than, the experience patients have with other products and services they use.

Why should a person's expectation be any lesser if they have to consume information or use a service from pharma? Enrolling in a support program, for example, should be accomplished with the same level of ease and quality of experience, as using services provided by a bank, a car company, or an e-commerce firm. It is industries like these that are setting the digital standards in CX against which all other sectors including pharma and healthcare will be judged.

While it is true that the level of information, motivation, and behavioral engagement required for a pharma product are very different than the myriad classes of consumer products, in CX terms that is immaterial. This is quite simply just an issue the industry has to deal with - if the experiences that pharma companies provide are inferior to those offered by other sectors then they will lose the engagement battle.

One way for a company to increase its chances of success is to break “patient experience” down to its most important components:

Patient onboarding

Patients often face several information gaps that can prevent them from even knowing they have a disease, and it is observed that the most regular interactions patients have with pharma are all about gaining information.4 Once patients have been identified they need to be engaged with on their terms, which means that engagement has to be very condition specific (See Figure 2).

Program design

The needs of patients with a rare disease, common cancer, or diabetes will be very different, as will their motivations. Successfully providing patients with information or a service that can improve their outcomes then requires an appropriately high level of CX.

Product access

The interplay of insurance, financial assistance, logistical challenges, and finally medical access present significant challenges for patients' access to healthcare - be it prescription medicines or support services. This point also needs to encompass age-old concerns with adherence through ongoing and continued engagement. Digital technology has changed this space dramatically with the use of chatbots, conversational AI, and other digital diagnostics and engagement tools.

It's early days so far, but there is already a strong momentum in the space to improve the patient experience in light of the ongoing “consumerization” of healthcare.

Figure 2:

“What was the last service or information you used that came from and was created by a pharmaceutical company?”

Base: 763 patients in Europe and the US who have interacted with pharmaceutical firms (percentage do not total 100 due to rounding)

Source: DT Consulting, The state of customer experience in pharma: patient interactions

COVID-19 has forced patient support programs to break the mold

The high level of regulatory oversight required of the industry provides one reason for the historical focus on HCPs rather than patients. Another reason can be found in the sheer numbers involved. When companies think about groups of HCPs, they are thinking in terms of hundreds or even thousands but with patients, they have to start thinking in millions or billions of people. So, a business-as-usual approach to stakeholder engagement that focuses on sales representative calls on HCPs was understandable.

Figure 3:

“Thinking in general about the way pharmaceutical companies should share information or provide a service, which of the following are most important to you?”

Base: 763 patients in Europe and the US who have interacted with pharmaceutical firms (Multiple responses were accepted)

Source: DT Consulting, The state of customer experience in pharma: patient interactions

However, the digital transformations that COVID-19 has wrought on society in general, as well as on healthcare, and pharma have confirmed that this approach has been ineffective for some time. The pandemic has accelerated a significant shift in the way people approach products, services, and information through digital means.5

Google is the starting point for the majority of online searches, followed by pharma websites6 when people want information and answers. This is true for questions about health, just as it is for queries related to banking, insurance, or automobiles. The more people interact with the services provided by tech giants like Google, the higher their expectations rise for interactions that can be frictionless.

Currently, patients' primary expectations during the interactions that they have with pharma firms are that the company will treat them as individuals by providing trustworthy, accurate, and up-to-date information, all while striving to ensure that interactions are made simple. Digital health companies are responding to this need with innovations like internet-connected thermometers. One such firm is Kinsa Health, whose smartphone-connected thermometers have millions of users, creating a network of data about spikes in people with fever in March 2020 that provided an early warning sign of COVID-19's rapid spread in the US.7

The global pandemic's impact on health, economics, and psychology produced a “hydra-like crisis” at a time when economically speaking, “there were not huge margins for error”, according to Silicon Valley VC firm Bond Capital, one of whose partners is the noted investor and internet analyst Mary Meeker. Bond's early look at coronavirus trends in April 20208 also highlighted COVID-19's potential to combine technology with healthcare and that prediction too has come to fruition in areas like telehealth,9 which is no longer a nice-to-have.

The aftermath of the pandemic's first acute phase has also seen a rising need for financial assistance, with important implications for pharma companies as they plan patient support programs. The core of such programs needs to be the provision for a more consumerized experience, with technology playing a key role when it comes to patient engagement. The explosion in mHealth sector with more than 318,000 mHealth apps available in major app stores and >18% sector growth expected between 2021 and 202610 provides a tremendous opportunity for technology-led healthcare solutions to be at the forefront of providing holistic patient support programs.

It's another area where patient programs must not be generic in what they offer. Financial assistance in multiple sclerosis is very different from financial assistance for diabetics, for example. They come with different tolerance levels for how long HCPs might wait if a patient is struggling to get onto medication because of problems paying. Service offering needs to be very specific, scalable, and also easily customizable depending on the therapeutic area involved.

Make patient-centricity a reality

Pharma companies have clearly stated their desires to be more patient-centric. Their commitment to improving patients' health outcomes, arguably the single biggest measure of patient-centricity, is taken as given. But a true patient health outcome can only be achieved through mindful patient experience and optimal CX. Consequently, although firms are approaching the goal of greater patient-centricity, they still have more to do if they are to be fully patient-centric.

This could start with questioning what is the best way to deliver outstanding patient experience throughout the entire patient journey - how can patients be helped to understand their condition, consult an HCP, and gain access to the medication and care they need? None of these stages should be seen as a one-off process. Instead, they provide opportunities for a continuous and long-term program of patient engagement (see box).

A global pharmaceutical company observed a 45% increase in therapy adherence by focusing on patient experience
The company tasked Indegene with exploring new ways to deliver better products, by seeking out and listening to patients' insights. It witnessed 60% non-adherence of therapy for its specialty brands, resulting in revenue losses and gaps in achieving better health outcomes. It had no prescription/patient data to create better interventions by optimizing patient experience.
Indegene launched a first-of-its-kind patient support program that integrated a call center, field counselors, and a centralized CRM. To enrolled patients, it offered disease awareness, education, and management, as well as access to diagnostic labs, an e-pharmacy service, and assistance with insurance and microfinance.
The initiative was then rolled out for 32 brands, 7 therapy areas, and 300,000 patients. It saw an enrollment rate of 95%, therapy adherence rate of 85%, compliance rate of 80%, and process adherence of 90% across all the patient support programs.

Technology has a key part to play in creating a superior patient experience. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can drive automation and raise the bar for customer engagement. For example, the use of conversational AI can take chatbots to new levels of responsiveness towards patients' needs. AI can also accelerate time to market and increase the personalization of communication to patients.11 At the same time, patient reach and marketing campaign planning powered by data and analytics have much scope for improvement.

It can also support a concierge approach to patient support. This acknowledges the challenges patients can face on a practical level and can assist them with getting to see their HCP and understanding their insurance coverage. Even after a doctor visit, companies can follow up with patients to make sure they get their medication.
There are many hurdles that patients face, and optimizing the CX can address these challenges in a tailored way. This is what tech companies like Amazon, whose health interests include Alexa skills, pharmacy delivery, and medical devices12, have in mind as they continue to expand into the healthcare sector.
Pharma is now likely to see healthcare services overloaded as patients seek to catch up on all the care, diagnoses, and treatment that was put on hold during COVID-19's acute phase. Doctors' offices are going to be bombarded with huge numbers of patients, and patient support programs can help HCPs by taking on some of those activities. Consequently, now is the right time for pharma to step up, innovate, and automate to support patients, doctors, nurses, caregivers, and even healthcare office managers.
5 keys to a successful patient support program
Involve patients throughout the program's design, creation, testing, and rollout
Use the insights gained from patient interactions to understand their expectations
Consider how the program will provide patients an optimal and tailored experience
Evaluate the program's impact on the overall patient journey
Leverage enterprise-level scalability to deliver unique experiences

The first step is empathy

Nearly a decade ago, Harvard Medical School researchers were investigating13 how empathy and compassion were associated with better treatment adherence, decreased malpractice cases, fewer medical mistakes, and increased patient satisfaction. Lately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for the pharma industry to refocus its attention on the needs of the customer, renewing the human connection to patient care through empathy.
But there is much ground to be covered. A 2020 publication by DT Consulting showed14 that patients themselves are not currently very impressed by the interactions they have with pharma companies. However, in analyzing patient expectations and experiences the research did show where improvements can be made.
All signs point towards such improvements bearing fruit sooner than we anticipate. With a robust focus on patient experience, pharma companies will start to observe higher therapy adherence and stronger loyalty from patients. They are likely to witness large amounts of impressions and clicks to their patient portals, especially from patients who are satisfied with their experience.
Many of the principles that guide pharma's interactions with HCPs15 (such as determining appropriate channels for every interaction, and ensuring a seamless and personalized experience across each channel) will remain relevant to providing an optimal patient experience.
In addition, there are several things pharma companies can do to ensure their patient engagement efforts are effective, beginning with following a longitudinal long-term strategy that takes a smart approach to data, analytics, and the use (and reuse) of content. To create experiences that are intelligent, impactful, and hyper-personalized, firms must also focus on the localization of content that takes its lead from a global plan but is adapted for different markets.
However, all of these steps are simply tactics. At its core, improving patient experience is an exercise in empathy. Overarching all tactical efforts is the need for pharma to think like a service industry and take a holistic view of healthcare from the lens of the patient.


The Indegene Healthcare Customer Experience Playbook
https://www.indegene.com/what-we-think/reports/the-healthcare-customer-experience-playbook. Accessed August, 2021
From product to customer experience: the new way to launch in pharma. Accessed August, 2021
The state of customer experience in pharma: patient interactions. Accessed August, 2021
Kinsa's smart thermometer helps find COVID-19 outbreaks. Accessed May, 2021.
Exclusive: Mary Meeker's coronavirus trends report
https://www.axios.com/mary-meeker-coronavirus-trends-report-%200690fc96-294f-47e6-9c57-573f829a6d7c.html. Accessed May, 2021.
As COVID-19 cases swell, US extends telehealth to acute care
mHealth apps market size to reach USD 101,550 million by 2026 at CAGR 18.4%.
Indegene: AI is transforming the pharma industry
https://www.indegene.com/news/indegene-ai-transforming-pharma-industry.Accessed May, 2021
Building empathy in healthcare
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/building_empathy_in_healthcare.Accessed August, 2021.
The state of customer experience in pharma: patient interactions. Accessed May, 2021.
The healthcare customer experience playbook
https://www.indegene.com/what-we-think/reports/the-healthcare-customer-experience-playbook. Accessed May, 2021.


Arindam De
Arindam De
Nitin Raizada
Nitin Raizada