The pharmaceutical industry continues to produce incredible cutting-edge treatments and therapies, from training the patient’s own T-cells to attack and cure cancer, to RNAi therapy that can silence specific genes involved in the disease process, to the rapid roll-out of mRNA vaccines during the Pandemic. What seemed like science fiction yesterday is reality today.
But, the industry is facing several challenges that affect its ability to sustain innovation and growth. Increasing public scrutiny over drug pricing and access has put pressure on companies to keep prices low. At the same time, expiring drug patents, the rising cost of research and development, and greater regulatory scrutiny have increased the baseline cost of doing business.
To adapt to changing market conditions, there are a number of things the industry can do, from diversifying its research and development efforts to partnering with startups. But there’s one solution, in particular, we want to focus on because it is arguably the pivot point around which a larger solution turns: patient-centeredness.
There are two reasons why patient-centeredness is so important. The first has to do with how pharmaceutical companies operate, while the second relates to pharma’s relationship with the larger healthcare system.
Pharma operates on long timelines. Generally speaking, it can take anywhere from 10 to 15 years for a new drug or therapy to be developed and approved for use by regulatory agencies such as the FDA in the United States. To succeed in this environment, a successful pharmaceutical company needs to be careful and methodical.
Yet, while these behaviors are necessary for success in the core business, they are a detriment when it comes to identifying novel pathways to growth through innovation. Patient-centeredness requires embracing uncertainty, taking measured risks, and cost-effectively designing and testing solutions rapidly. In short, it requires the capacity for design thinking and human-centered design.
We have worked with several of the largest pharmaceutical companies both to increase their internal design thinking capacity and to reimagine patient experience, engagement, and adoption of new therapies. While we unfortunately can’t tell you more due to the confidential nature of our work, we can outline several key considerations that are broadly applicable.
The first is to pull innovation capacity into your organization.
Because of the nature of the core business, it can feel like an “other.” And it can be tempting to offload the work to “big box” consultants. But, it’s crucial to break down silos and exercise new capabilities on a consistent basis. The boundaries between a patient behavioral insight and a new business model are fluid and surprising. Getting experts out of their silos and into a shared, structured creative space is critical to uncover less obvious ideas to drive growth.
The second is to recognize that design thinking is often done poorly.
Bias and assumption are the greatest threats to the success of any new product or service. Yet managing bias in the design thinking process is often thin and facile. This is a skill that can be learned and a habit of mind that needs to be reinforced at all levels of the organization.
The third is that design thinking is only half the battle.
While it’s true that everyone can participate in the design process, not everyone is a designer. At some point, professional designers (and engineers) need to be part of the process. Too often, there is a focus on the glitz of design thinking, without consideration for what it takes to produce and evolve real-world products and services.
Certainly, these capabilities can be pointed inward to improve how pharmaceutical companies think about and solve their own problems. The goal of such an effort should be to challenge and rebuild communications structures inside the organization so that it’s able to solve problems by making better decisions.
At the same time, these capabilities can be aimed outward to capture market share and to increase revenue. The critical starting point is the patient. The reality is that people will always surprise you. Rather than seeing this as a problem to be eliminated, see it instead as an opportunity.
For example, when developing new medications and therapies, understanding what patients need (but don’t know how to tell you), can increase patient understanding and adherence to treatment plans; it can also reduce adverse events such as medication errors or drug interactions that may arise because of lack of understanding or mistrust. Indeed, new trends like digital health, personalized medicine, and even population health are all areas where a patient-centered approach offers an advantage.
Ultimately, our view is that patient-centeredness offers a stable point around which to build your innovation strategy. Incorporating a patient-centered approach into the core of your business creates clarity inside the organization, and helps you break through the noise so your innovations are embraced by the market. Together, these efforts can increase market share, improve brand perception, and open new pathways to growth.