Why Pharma Needs Design Thinking
October 11, 2019 | Design Thinking
by ExperiencePoint

The pharmaceutical industry has a patient-centricity problem. For decades, drug developers have thought of patients as silent participants in their research process, instead of active partners.

Patients are demanding a stronger role in clinical research. They want to feel as though they’re involved in trial planning and the dissemination of results, and they want the trials themselves to be more user-friendly.

The demand for patient-friendly research has been growing louder every year. Pharmaceutical executives have tried to be responsive, but patients remain unimpressed with the results. In a recent Corporate Reputation of Pharma survey, 59 percent of patient groups gave pharma a"Fair-to-Poor" rating on engaging patients in product research. 60 percent gave the same rating for the industry’s efforts to engage patients in product development.

In other words, pharma is not doing enough to make patients feel heard.

Part of the problem is that pharma doesn’t consider the patient to be the customer. The industry focuses, instead, on the physicians who prescribe their drugs, the payers who cover the cost of their drugs and the pharmacies that dispense them. Ironically, the people actually taking their drugs fall off the radar.

This oversight means pharma misses out on valuable patient insight, including what might entice or deter a patient from participating in a trial.

This information gap causes major financial losses. A report from Forte estimates that pharma companies lose an average of $36,000 for every patient who drops out of a trial, and that approximately 18 percent of patients drop-out of a trial before it ends.

In the days of blockbuster drugs, when there were thousands of potential patients to recruit and millions of potential users, these costs might have been negligible. But, these days, pharma companies are focused on developing precision medicines that treat increasingly specific patient populations. Recruiting for trials is harder, and the cost of alienating any potential recruit is significant.

Pharma can’t afford to keep alienating these customers and treating them as though their opinions don’t matter. Design thinking can help pharma turn this trend around.

Digital portal links pharma to patients

By leveraging the basic tools of design thinking—empathizing with end users, developing brainstorming solutions and getting feedback on iterations—pharma can solve its patient-centricity crisis and better serve their end users.

Pharma companies using this approach are already seeing results. In a PharmaVoice article, Cynthia Verst, president of design and delivery innovation at IQVIA, discusses the way her company is taking a “human-centered design approach to patient recruiting and retention” by using a patient portal where patients can learn about trials, share feedback and interact with the alumni-patient community.

“The features built into the portal address the many complaints patients have had about the clinical research experience, while providing a transparent platform,” Verst writes. The features include giving patients access to trial updates, creating alerts about appointments and other basic communications that make patients feel valued. “Patients and their caregivers get a more positive trial experience and access to information before, during and after a trial that affirms their critical value and importance in the research process.”

It may sound simple but, in an industry typically concerned with data privacy and boasting a doctor-knows-best attitude, it can be difficult to recalibrate how patients are seen and valued. Adopting a design thinking attitude is a crucial step in the right direction.

Read more about the way Design Thinking can disrupt major industries in our recent post about human-centered thinking and the legal world.


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